To say that African-Americans have been there for President Obama is an understatement. Many believe it was the tremendous turnout he received from African-Americans in battleground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia that pushed him over the top and secured a second term over challenger Mitt Romney.
Now, many in the Black community feel as if the next four years provide a rare opportunity for the president to be there for them, a demographic that has been hit the hardest by the economic downturn. Call it the Big Payback, a chance for Obama to tackle many of the issues important to African-Americans without having to really ponder how doing so plays politically.
If there is any doubt where to begin, here are four areas that need bold agendas from the White House:
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have been on a crusade to get the nation and the White House to address the issue of poverty. Although the poverty rate among African-Americans, 27.5 percent, exceeds the national average of 15 percent, the crisis is rarely mentioned by Obama or his administration. The president needs to put together a Poverty Task Force to come up with new ways to tackle the problem and help more African-Americans move up the economic ladder.
While the president established the White House Office of Urban Affairs in 2009, it has been relatively quiet. One of the top priorities of the office was to ensure that federal government dollars targeted to cities are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs. President Obama needs to pump new life into this department, perhaps charging it with tackling the issue of urban blight that plague some of our big cities. Detroit and Baltimore, for example, need massive federal government assistance to turn around dwindling job opportunities and falling population rates.
African-Americans have the highest unemployment rate in the country. Despite a significant decrease in the unemployment rate among Whites in the last year, the rate among African-American has been stagnant, hovering around 14.5 percent. Much more attention needs to be given to finding effective job solutions, particularly in inner cities. President Obama should convene big-city mayors, civil rights and youth leaders and charge them with crafting a plan to put more Americans back to work.
Although President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative is well underway, there has been no significant improvement in America’s public schools, particularly in urban areas. The White House needs to confront the teachers unions and state education departments head on and demand immediate across-the-board improvement in test scores, with an emphasis on math, science and technology. Holding the threat of a significant move to charter schools may be enough to start real, measureable change.