Under Obama, African-American unemployment up; wealth, wages, political influence down

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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In his controversial June 2007 Hampton Roads speech, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged to remove a metaphorical bullet from a wounded African-American community.

“We are all God’s children and we can all unite to work together to make sure the vulnerable, the aged, the sick and our children are cared for in this country,” he declared.

“We can take the bullet out if we work together as a team,” he announced in an accent tuned for his audience of African-American ministers in Virginia.

Since Obama made that speech, he has served almost four years in the White House, and African-Americans’ median wealth has crashed, their wages have flat lined, their unemployment has spiked, and their political power has waned.

The metaphorical bullet wound has turned septic.

Obama used his speech to call for stronger African-American families, saying, “If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, we must start with our families.”

But the percentage of adult African-Americans in poverty rose from 19.8 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The percentage of African-American children in poverty rose from 34.5 percent to 39.1 percent in 2010. African-Americans’ formal unemployment rate jumped from 9 percent in June 2007 to 14.5 percent this August.

And the reality is worse: The percentage of African-Americans in the workforce fell from 58.6 percent in June 2007, down to 52.8 percent in August 2012. Less than half of young African-American men have full-time jobs.

The median wealth of African-American households has also shrunk dramatically, mostly because of the housing bubble created by the federal government’ effort in the 1990s and 2000s to boost home ownership among African-Americans.

In 2005, the median wealth of African-American households was $12,124. By 2009, it had plummeted to $5,677 — a 53 percent drop — according to a July 2011 report by the Pew Research Center.

In his speech, Obama pledged to “build more homes that people can afford,” but the percentage of African-Americans owning a house fell from a record 50 percent level in 2006, down to 45 percent in 2012.

While a lawyer and legislator in Chicago, Obama played a direct role — albeit minor — in the creation of the real-estate bubble: He was a booster of the federal housing policy that pressured banks to provide loans to poor African-Americans. He continued to support the policy while serving as a U.S. senator from 2004 to 2008.

Obama used his 2007 speech to pledge health care for African-Americans, all of whom had some form of government-backed access to health care prior to the passage of Obamacare.

“Here’s one final idea that will help break the cycle of poverty — affordable health care for every single American,” Obama said. “Our God is big enough for that. … I’ve got a health plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of every family’ premium by up to $2,500 every year.”

After Obamacare took force, the price of employer-sponsored health insurance programs rose 9 percent in 2011 and another 4 percent in 2012, up to $15,745, according to a survey released in September by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

Aside from the economic losses, the political power of the African-American community also has waned as both Democrats and Republicans try to woo the growing Hispanic community.

The power shift was publicly illustrated in June 2012 when Obama announced a path to legal residency for at least 800,000 illegal immigrants. Many say that those immigrants — few of whom have college degrees — will compete for jobs against those hit hardest by the economic downturn, including African-Americans.

That deferred deportation policy is poignant, partly because Obama used his 2007 speech to argue that African-Americans be hired to help rebuild New Orleans. “We don’t need Halliburton doing it — we can have the people who were displaced doing that work,” he declared.

However, many of the reconstruction jobs have gone to immigrants, partly because immigrants are more willing to move from their communities. After the 2005 flood, the city gained 37,000 Hispanics, even as the majority-black population shrank by 20 percent, according to Governing magazine.

In Obama’s White House, African-Americans also lost out to gays. In 2012, Obama also backed gay advocacy groups’ effort to change marriage form a child-focused relationship to an adult-focused relationship that would include childless same-sex couples. That shift clashed with the socially conservative view held by many African-Americans. In numerous state ballots, African-Americans have voted heavily to support the traditional definition of marriage.

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