Black voter turnout in 2012 may slide

President Barack Obama will likely lose his re-election bid without a high turnout in African-American communities, but that turnout is being threatened by the economic pain suffered in urban communities during Obama’s administration.

This critical issue helps explain Obama’s meeting Thursday with two leading organizers in the African-American community, Marc Morial of the National Urban League and Benjamin Jealous of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It “remains to be seen” if African-American voter turnout will be reduced by the sour economy, Jealous said in an interview outside the White House. But he added: “What we learned from 2010 is when you stay home, you lose.”

The president listened to several job-creation proposals and will focus on jobs once the debt-ceiling debate is wrapped up, said Morial. The country faces a “great crisis in jobs … [and] we remain committed to a strong relationship with the president and his administration,” said Morial, who declined to discuss the economy’s impact on Election Day turnout.

“I think we will see a lower turnout,” said Star Parker, an African-American GOP activist. In 2008, “many were looking to make history,” but disillusionment with Obama and better GOP outreach to African-American social conservatives could make an election-winning difference in 2012, she said. In 2012, “he could lose up to 10 percent,” Parker concluded.

In the mid-term elections, African-American turnout declined from 13 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 10 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls.

African-Americans backed Obama by 95 percent in 2008 and voted in record numbers compared to their 2004 turnout. The increased 2008 turnout boosted his win by 4 percentage points, to a margin of 7.2 percent, over Republican John McCain. (President, congressional leaders reportedly near $3 trillion deal)

But a recent Pew poll of many groups in the United States showed that African-Americans had the steepest drop in confidence about the country’s economic future. Since April 2010, their confidence level has fallen 22 points, and was just 40 percent in June. In comparison, college graduates’ confidence level fell 15 points to 35 percent and independents’ fell 12 points to 24 percent.

That steep drop reflects the increased unemployment among African-Americans, now at 16.2 percent, which is twice the white unemployment rate of 8.2 percent.

But even that dismal unemployment number understates the economic pain, much of which is described in a July 11 report by the Department of Labor titled “The Black Labor Force in the Recovery.”

Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only 43 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 29 have a full-time job, and only 58 percent of African-American men older than 16 have either full-time or part-time work. Those numbers exclude full-time students and incarcerated people.

The black middle-class has also been hit hard by by the federal government’s long-term program to boost home ownership rates. That program created a real-estate bubble that burst in 2008, leaving many unmarried parents facing dire economic straits and many African-American home-buyers owing more than their homes was worth. The combined result of this turmoil was an 83 percent drop in the net worth of the median African-American household.

In 2004, half of black households had a net worth less than $13,450. By 2009, that median number had fallen to $2,170, according to a March 24 study by the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. In contrast, the median net worth of white households fell 24 percent to $97,860 during the same period.

“It is unquestionable that blacks are highly supportive of the president,” said Parker. “As with any group, there’s pride when someone goes further and represents their ethnicity. That said, I’m hopeful that a core percentage of African-Americans … will use their heads and nor their heart,” Parker said.