Race Gap: Blacks Fall Further Behind Under Obama

Image: Race Gap: Blacks Fall Further Behind Under Obama Women walk past blighted row houses in Baltimore.

Wednesday, 08 Jan 2014 07:49 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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Black Americans have overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in two presidential elections, but they have fallen further behind during his term in office, losing ground in measures of income, employment, and education.

The national unemployment rate has dropped to 7 percent, but the jobless rate for blacks has hardly moved since Obama took office, declining from 12.7 percent in 2009 to 12.5 percent, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

And while the recession impacted all race and age groups' earnings, blacks fared the worst.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

The poverty rate for blacks sharply increased, rising from 12 percent in 2008 to 16.1 percent Wednesday. Median income declined by 3.6 percent for white households to $58,000, but fell 10.9 percent to $33,500 for black households, Census Bureau figures show.

"The data is going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category," Tavis Smiley, a black radio talk-show host, said on Fox News in October. "On that regard, the president ought to be held responsible."

While blacks turned out in record numbers to support Obama in 2012, many are becoming more vocal about the lack of progress for African-Americans.

"I don't know how much he has done or how much his policies are responsible for the current state of blacks in America. What I do know is that we are worse off than we were when he came into office," Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, told Newsmax.

At a conference at Howard University in early 2013, economist Dr. Bernard Anderson, who still supports Obama, expressed a sense of exasperation that has grown over the course of his presidency.

Anderson said: "He is not going to run again for anything. He does not deserve a pass anymore. Let him not only find his voice but summon his courage and use his political capital to address racial inequality. He owes that to the African-American community.”

Alford said the administration could help blacks by addressing the 20 percent decline in small business lending, investing more in programs that help prisoners transition into permanent jobs, and adopting education policies that support alternatives, including charter schools.

Alford cited the Keystone pipeline as one example where the president has rejected an issue that has support in Congress and could have a positive impact on African-American employment, particularly in the states through which the pipeline would run.

"There are lots of things he could do, but he has not done so," he said. "He could start with opening up the Keystone pipeline. He could stop his administration from trying to put the coal industry out of business and he could just let business be business."

Early in his first term, Obama rejected assertions that he was neglecting the black community as "simply factually not correct," claiming change could not come "overnight."

Speaking in April 2009 with American Urban Radio Network, Obama said: "I can't pass laws that say I'm just helping black folks. I'm the president of the entire United States. What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need."

Especially disappointing is the lack of progress for blacks in education since Obama took office, after strides were made during the previous decade.

"Gains under the Obama administration by all students range between minimal and nonexistent, and the black-white gap on test scores threatens to widen after having narrowed steadily over the previous nine years," Paul E. Peterson, professor of government at Harvard University, wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

Between 1999 and 2008, white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, while black student performance rose by 13 points. In reading, black performance gained 18 points. However, from 2008 to 2012 those gains slowed, with scores rising just two points in each subject for 9-year-old African-Americans.

The education gap is even more prevalent in urban centers such as Chicago. According to the 2013 National Report Card, the gap in fourth-grade math test scores between black and white students widened to 40 points — the largest gap since the national study began in 2003.

Nationally, only 52 percent of black males graduate from high school in four years, according to the Schott Foundation's 2012 report.

Despite the troubled state of education in black communities, the Obama administration has fought efforts to expand minority students' access to school choice.

The most recent example is the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against Louisiana's tuition voucher program, which has produced record gains for blacks and Hispanics.

The basis of Justice's opposition to the program was that it endangered desegregation efforts in Louisiana, despite the fact that approximately 90 percent of the 6,700 children receiving vouchers are black.

Even the Washington Post editorial board criticized the decision, stating that it represented a bid "to trap poor, black children in ineffective schools."

The Obama administration's approach to education actually runs counter to the growing support for education alternatives among black parents.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

A March 2012 multistate survey conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options found that almost 90 percent of respondents agreed that government should provide parents with as many choices as possible to ensure that their child receives a good education. Half of those surveyed — including seven in 10 in Mississippi — expressed support for charter schools.

Alford agrees that if Obama were white, it is likely he would receive more vocal criticism from the black community. Yet despite Obama's failure to deliver on his promise of jobs and better economic conditions, many African-Americans continue to show support, according to opinion polls.

In a Dec. 10 survey conducted by Quinnipiac University, Obama had an overall approval rating of 39 percent. However, his approval was 85 percent among black voters, which eclipsed the 76 percent approval from Democrats as a whole but was lower than the 93 percent of blacks who voted for Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012.

Orlando Watson, Republican National Committee communications director for black media, says the dissatisfaction within the community presents an opportunity for Republican candidates.

After the 2012 election, the RNC began building a grass-roots network to connect with minority business and community leaders across the nation. Watson said they have organizations in 10 states so far, including Louisiana, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio, and plan to broaden the effort in the next year.

Watson told Newsmax: "For too long Democrats have taken their votes for granted, so what we are doing is working hard on the ground and in the community to show there is a choice and an alternative to the policies that have failed generations."

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