By Hazel Trice Edney
(NNPA) As the Black unemployment rate rose slightly last month, President Barack Obama has signed the long-awaited jobs bill with hopes of turning around employment rates, which for African-Americans still nearly doubles the national average of 9.5 percent.
“The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 will create jobs, help American companies compete, and strengthen manufacturing as a key driver of our economic recovery,” Obama said during a bill signing ceremony at the White House last week. “To make their products, manufacturers – some of whom are represented here today – often have to import certain materials from other countries and pay tariffs on those materials. This legislation will reduce or eliminate some of those tariffs, which will significantly lower costs for American companies across the manufacturing landscape -– from cars to chemicals; medical devices to sporting goods. And that will boost output, support good jobs here at home, and lower prices for American consumers.”
Obama’s stroke of the pen will not wipe out all of the damage done during the economic crisis that started in earnest during the Bush Administration. But, there are high hopes in Black communities where the jobless rate reached back to 15.6 percent last month, up from 15.4 in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment among Black males – though dropped significantly from its high of 19 percent in March of this year – is still at 16.7 percent, nearly twice the average White rate of 8.6 and White male rate of 8.8 percent.
There is contention among some that Obama may need to take specific actions to help quell the disparate economic suffering in the Black community.
“Unemployment rates for African-Americans and Latinos remain unacceptably high at 15.6 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively, and highlighting the disproportionate impact the recession has had and the need for targeted efforts to address chronic unemployment,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif). in a statement.
In the President’s bill-signing statement, there was no specific mention of the Black unemployment rate at the bill signing Aug. 11. However, earlier this month, Obama acknowledged to thousands at the National Urban League Convention that Black communities had already been hit substantially by the economy before he ever took office.
“The African-American unemployment rate was already much higher, the incomes and wealth of African-American families already lower,” he said. “There was less of a cushion. Many minority communities — whether in big cities or rural towns — had seen businesses and opportunities vanish for years, stores boarded up, young people hanging out on the street corners without prospects for the future.”
He added, “So when we came in to office, we focused not just on rescuing our economy in the short run, but rebuilding our economy for the long run — creating an economy that lifts up all Americans.”
He also told the NUL crowd that certain actions by his administration have been intended to at least respond to the Black unemployment rate, including “making sure civil rights and anti-discrimination laws are enforced.”
Meanwhile, the issue that was predicted to be his toughest is measuring up to its expectations, Obama said: “Now, we knew from the beginning that reversing the damage done by the worst financial crisis and the deepest recession in generations would take some time – more time than anyone would like. And we knew that it would require an ongoing effort across all fronts.”