Obama plays to a black population that grew 15 percent in 10 years

Laura Phelps | Contributor

The number of Americans declaring their race as both black and white more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, the largest recorded increase among multiracial groups, U.S. Census Bureau officials reported Thursday. People who reported being both black and white grew from approximately 785,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2010.

Against this backdrop, President Barack Obama made his pitch to black voters last weekend during a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama told attendees it was time for the black community to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying” and focus on work.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Hansen Clarke, a Caucus member, said he thought the president’s message empowered the black community and encouraged blacks to get engaged. The day before Obama’s speech, Clarke spoke with him in the Oval Office about the importance of reinvesting in Detroit, which has the largest percentage of black residents among major U.S. cities.

“He’s telling us to act,” Clarke said, adding that he thinks the encouragement could mobilize more black voters to get engaged before the election. “That’s what we need, we need action.”

In cities with populations greater than 100,000, Detroit had the largest proportion of black residents at 84 percent, followed by Jackson, Miss., at 80 percent, Miami Gardens, Fla. at 78 percent and Birmingham, Ala., at 74 percent.

Clarke has proposed a Detroit Jobs Fund bill that would capture federal tax revenue from city residents for five years and reinvest it to pay down the city’s debt. The bill also seeks to boost support of public safety and education, make repairs to infrastructure and create jobs.

Clarke said Obama was interested, and Bill Daley, White House chief of staff, thought the idea was innovative.

Although their city suffers from high unemployment rates, Detroiters still support the president, Clarke said. He noted that he was out of work for several months when he was 23 years old, which made him feel hopeless.

The biggest need in black communities is “keeping the faith” when people are out of work, he said.

“Discrimination still exits,” Clarke said. “It’s tougher for folks who are black in this country to get jobs or get an education.”

While the overall U.S. population grew by 9.7 percent during the century’s first decade, the new census data show that the self-identified black population grew by 15 percent. The U.S. population identifying solely as black, and not multiracial, increased by 12 percent.

Census officials had no explanation for the dramatic increase in the number of black Americans selecting more than one race on census forms.

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