The constantly breaking political news cycle is enough to leave nerves frayed. These turbulent time may make you long for days (read: administrations) past and see this as a good time to step back and reflect on calmer days when Barack Obama was in the White House. Some may want to reminisce on Obama’s accomplishments as president, and particularly, their effect on the African American community.
Why? Well, the political—and some may say the actual—world is currently in tumult. Human rights organizations, activists, and Democrats, and even fellow Republicans are vigorously criticizing a Draconian immigration policy recently enforced by President Trump that separates children from their parents when they cross U.S. borders. President Trump has also been accused of insulting U.S. allies; cozying up to the most despotic leaders in the world; engages in daily attacks on the free press; has no qualms name-calling anyone who irks him via Twitter; and of course, there is the suspicion that he colluded with Russia to win the presidency.
During his time in office, President Barack Obama worked to improve the lives of all Americans, including African Americans, by providing economic and educational opportunities, improving healthcare coverage, working to ensure that the criminal justice system is applied fairly to all citizens, and championing workforce development to ensure we continue to develop and retain the strongest, most productive workforce in the world. During this administration, African Americans made strides in many of these areas.
What’s more, President Obama’s JumpStart Our Business Start-up (JOBS) Act resulted in a major shift in securities laws that meant the emancipation of capital for minority and women-owned businesses, who traditionally have struggled with gaining access to capital through traditional means. More minorities and lower net worth individuals were able to get in on investments that can drive more wealth generation to their communities. Thanks to Titles II, III, and IV, a startup can publicly raise capital, participate in equity-based crowdfunding, and use online tools to find investors as well as raise up to $50 million from both non-accredited investors and accredited investors (those making at least $200,000 a year or having a million-dollar net-worth).
My Brother’s Keeper
Under President Obama’s watch, there was an emphasis on black males. In February 2014, the president introduced My Brother’s Keeper, to specifically focus on improving the lives of young African American males. The initiative is encouraging nonprofits to raise $200 million in five years for programs focused on young men of color. Though My Brother’s Keeper is not a federally-funded government program, no such effort has existed before under any American president. President Obama is said to be planning to make My Brother’s Keeper a major policy before he leaves office.
African American and white political pundits alike, continue to attack President Obama’s record, regardless of discriminatory practices, by pointing to the high school dropout rate, poverty rate, and high unemployment rate among African Americans. The Administration admits more work remains to further improve economic outcomes for African Americans and fight to rid the nation of the long-term disparities that have put the African American community at a disadvantage.
Barack Obama’s Accomplishments (A Rundown)
Restoring Economic Security: According to the White House, American businesses have added over 14 million jobs. This job growth has helped cut the African American unemployment rate in half—from 16.8% in March 2010 to 8.3% in December 2015, its lowest level since September 2007. The African American unemployment rate has fallen by more than the overall unemployment rate in the past few years and is further below its pre-recession level than any other racial or ethnic group.
Helping the Long-Term Unemployed Get Back to Work: The Administration has taken steps to help more of the long-term unemployed get back to work, around one-quarter of whom are African American. The president unveiled a set of “best practices” being taken by leading employers—including over 80 members of the Fortune 500 and over 20 members of the Fortune 50—around recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed to remove some of the barriers that make it harder for them to navigate the hiring process. The Department of Labor awarded nearly $170 million in “Ready to Work Partnership” grants to support the best models for partnerships between employers, non-profits and the job training system, to help train and connect the long-term unemployed to work.
Providing Comprehensive Healthcare: President Obama’s victories in Congress for comprehensive health care coverage, as well as his win in the Supreme Court, meant that many African Americans benefited. By March 2015, over 16 million Americans had enrolled in Obamacare, reports NBC News. Because of Obamacare, the rates of uninsured Americans have fallen to 11.9% after being at 16% when President Bush left office. Over 3 million poor Americans, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the South, would be covered if not for Republican governors blocking the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Affordable College; Promoting Entrepreneurship
Making College More Accessible and Affordable: President Obama signed legislation increasing the maximum Pell Grant by more than $1,000 and total Pell Grant funding by 70%, helping millions of low- and moderate-income students afford college every year. He’s also taken steps to reduce student loan burdens, including ending student loan subsidies for private banks and shifting the savings back to students, reducing student loan interest rates to historic lows, and capping student loan payments at 10% of income for all students. He established and made permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a tax cut of up to $10,000 over four years for nearly 10 million working and middle-class families a year paying for college. The President’s budget supports America’s College Promise, which would make community college free for responsible students.
Promoting Entrepreneurship as a Path to Success: In 2013, the administration announced it would set fees on Small Business Administration loans to zero, encouraging more lenders, particularly community banks, to provide vital access to capital for entrepreneurs. Changes to the microloan program have also increased access to loans under $50,000 for justice-involved individuals. The SBA has increased outreach to the African American community with the launch of the Business Smart Toolkit, a business basics and lender-readiness resource in partnership with the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders. Additionally, SBA partnered with national organizations such as U.S. Black Chambers Inc. and 100 Black Men of America, to reach more entrepreneurs. SBA launched the My Brother’s Keeper Millennial Entrepreneurs Initiative, partnering with HBCUs and community colleges to promote entrepreneurship across college campuses, and MBK Millennial Entrepreneur Champion Mike Muse to encourage entrepreneurship among young people of color and other youth.
Championing Criminal Justice Reform and Fair Policing: President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010. This narrowed the penalty between crack and powder cocaine from 1:10 to 1:18. In 2014, President Obama established a task force on policing and in 2015, he rolled back the use of certain military equipment by local police—a Black Lives Matter related demand. During the Obama presidency, the Department of Justice has investigated several police departments, including Ferguson, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, under former Attorney General Eric Holder and current Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Helping Americans Keep Their Homes: African American families were particularly hard-hit by the housing crisis and were the victims of predatory lending. The president took action to help homeowners, including expanding access to refinancing—allowing responsible borrowers to save an average of $3,000 per year. The administration also took measures to allow homeowners behind on their payments to modify their mortgages to avoid foreclosure—with more than 1.5 million borrowers having received permanent modifications through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the Administration’s cornerstone foreclosure prevention program, and millions more receiving private modifications that were modeled off of HAMP.
Making Owning a Home More Affordable: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has long been an important source of financing for African American families seeking to buy their first home. In recent years, nearly half of African American home buyers used FHA to get a mortgage. Recently, the president announced a major new step to make buying a home more affordable and accessible for creditworthy families. The FHA reduced its annual mortgage insurance premiums by half a percentage point. For the typical homebuyer, this reduction translates into a $900 reduction in their annual mortgage payment. Existing homeowners who refinance into an FHA mortgage will see similar reductions to their mortgage payments as well. Following the reduction in 2015, the number of African American borrowers (new purchase or refinance) with an FHA loan increased by nearly 50%.
Protecting Families from Financial Abuses, Hidden Fees, and Deceptive Practices: To prevent mortgage companies, credit card lenders, and payday loan companies from exploiting consumers with hidden fees and other deceptive practices, President Obama fought to pass the most far-reaching Wall Street reform in history, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB, which works to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans, is also charged with enforcing fair lending laws to protect against discriminatory lending practices.
Working Families and Tackling the Digital Divide
Permanent Tax Cuts that Promote Work and Reduce Poverty: The president established and recently made permanent significant improvements to tax credits for working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) were expanded to encourage work and help low-income parents afford the costs of raising a family, together providing about 16 million families a year with a tax cut averaging $900. These tax credit expansions provide about 2 million African American families a year with an average tax cut of about $1,000 each. Because of these improvements, a single parent working full-time, year-round at the federal minimum wage gets an additional CTC of more than $1,700; if the expansion were not in place, that parent would not receive any CTC.
Expanding Access to Paid Leave: last September, the president signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to offer their employees up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. An estimated 44 million private sector workers—about 40% of the total private-sector workforce—do not have access to paid sick leave, and low- and middle-income workers are much less likely to have it than high-income workers. As a result, too many working Americans cannot afford to stay home if they are ill or to take care of a sick child if it means the loss of pay. The new executive order will give approximately 300,000 Americans working on federal contracts the new ability to earn seven days of paid sick leave. The president also called on Congress to pass legislation expanding paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to millions more workers.
Increasing Wages for Working Families: The president has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage. While Congress has failed to act on this issue in the past eight years, the president has worked within his power to increase wages for working families–based on an executive order, workers on new federal contracts will earn a minimum of $10.10 an hour starting this year, indexed to inflation beginning in 2016. But the president cannot raise wages alone, which is why he continues to call for Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act to increase the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020. According to researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, this Act would lead to a raise for 45% of all single, working African American mothers. Overall, passing the Raise the Wage Act would directly or indirectly increase wages for an estimated 35 million workers, helping to ensure fair pay and boost the economy. However, since the president called for an increase in the minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union address, 17 states and the District of Columbia have answered his call. That means that today, a total 29 states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage.
Narrowing the Digital Divide: In July 2015, President Obama announced ConnectHome , which is a new initiative with 27 communities, one tribal nation, the private-sector, and federal government to expand high-speed broadband to more families across the country. ConnectHome will initially reach up to 200,000 children in low-income households living in public housing with the support they need to access the Internet at home. Through public and private partnership, ConnectHome communities will offer technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices to help narrow the digital divide.
Creating Affordable Retirement Savings: The administration stresses that Social Security must remain a rock-solid, guaranteed progressive benefit that every American can rely on; although too many Americans reach their golden years without any personal savings or pension whatsoever. According to the Urban Institute, the risk of an insecure retirement is especially high for minorities: white households have six times the wealth, including retirement savings, of African Americans or Hispanics. To make it easier for families to save for retirement, the Treasury recently announced the national launch of myRA, a new starter retirement account designed for individuals who don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement program. According to a Federal Reserve report, 42% of workers don’t have access to a retirement plan through their jobs. myRA is designed to help bridge this gap, and help workers get on the path to long-term savings.
-Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its original publish date of July 2016
– Samara Lynn contributed to this article