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Acknowledging the Obvious

POSTED: June 08, 2011, 12:00 am

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“…more needs to be done to get Blacks or African-Americans back to work.”

Maybe it was the disappointing sentiments of Professor Cornel West or the public spat between the scholar and Rev. Al Sharpton, the latter one of the President’s strongest supporters, but something moved the administration to finally acknowledge the depths of the Black employment crisis and admit more has to be done to fix it. The admission comes after a disastrous May when the Black unemployment rate almost returned to its recession peak and prospective Republican opponents taking potshots at the President.

Sometimes a little controversy can be the best medicine for a lethargic presidential administration. The recent criticism of his leadership on the economy might have been just the tonic to get President Obama to make a miraculous recovery and come out swinging. Reluctant to suggest any disparate racial impact from the outset of his presidency, the President has tiptoed around the obvious implosion of the Black labor force. While he has preached a universal recovery, it was quite evident that Blacks are being left behind and large numbers of Black workers might be destined for the ranks of the permanent jobless. Quite frankly, the President has been stubborn as a mule on this point and his kick was beginning to leave a self-inflicted wound.

No one with an ounce of honesty can lay all the blame for this mess on President Obama. His predecessor, George W. Bush, and his merry band of profiteers, dug a crater size hole and threw all of us, except the den of thieves on Wall Street, in without a ladder. As “luck” would have it, the current occupant of the White House took the reins just as the house of cards began to tumble. Already behind the pack when the recession began, Blacks were left celebrating the election of the nation’s first Black President who would be in the unenviable position of watching his community go under and feeling unable to do anything about it politically. Perhaps seeing the shocking data on Black unemployment from the May jobs report was simply more than this President could take. Whatever the motivation, the report by the Department of Labor is refreshing for its directness and candor in explaining how Blacks have been significantly disadvantaged by the recession.

The President’s allies on the Hill should seize the opportunity the Labor Department provides to fashion a specific policy response on the Black employment crisis, and specifically the plight of Black men in the labor force. Conservatives will undoubtedly cry foul but they should be challenged to prove that their opposition is ideological and not racist. With an election looming, Republicans should be forced to live up to their “big tent” rhetoric and not allowed to hide behind the deficit as a reason to reject a program designed to put Blacks to work.

It will be a tough sell for President Obama, but it will be worth the fight. While there is a faction of this country that is hell bent on working toward his defeat in 2012, the President still enjoys support among young voters, Blacks, Hispanics and I believe a quiet plurality of whites who appreciate the difficult circumstances under which he has had to govern. The civil rights leadership can be helpful here too, reminding the Obama electoral coalition, and the nation, of the long-term consequences of ignoring this crisis. For all the talk about our nation’s global competitiveness, we will never be at full strength until Blacks are fully engaged in the economy and contributing to the country’s productivity. Work is the key to the nation’s long-term security and the President must make America acknowledge the plight of Black workers and the implications for America if we fail to employ them.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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