Black America Living Through a Great Economic Depression — What’s Obama Doing About It?

The statement that won overwhelming African-American support in the Democracy Corps survey happens to parallel the three issues that were listed as top priorities of African Americans surveyed in the group: retirement benefits, affordable education and affordable health care. It is a list largely borne out of the day-to-day experiences of African-American households. Of those who were surveyed, 48 percent had cut back on purchases at the grocery store, 25 percent had seen their wages or benefits at work reduced, 22 percent had lost a job, 32 percent had moved in with family or had family move in with them to save money, 13 percent had fallen behind in their mortgage and 11 had been affected by cuts to unemployment benefits.

The Agenda We Need

The Democracy Corps survey also picked up something that should be very worrying to the Democratic Party. In a generic “who would you vote for if the election were held today” matchup, African-American support for Democrats fell from 90 percent at the beginning of the year to 85 percent in March. And only 71 percent of African Americans surveyed said they were “almost certain to vote” in the 2014 elections after having voted in 2012, compared to 78 percent of White voters. Yes, it is a relatively small sample in one poll and campaigning for the first of the midterm elections is still at least eight months away.

But it pays to remember 2010, when African Americans were only 10 percent of the electorate, down from 13 percent in 2008. According to the Joint Center for Political Studies, 16 of the 60 seats Democrats lost in the House that year were in districts in which at least 10 percent of the electorate was African American.

Turnout rebounded strongly in 2012, perhaps as much in reaction against the Republican Party and Republican-backed voter suppression efforts as it was a desire to keep President Obama in the White House and increase Democratic Party power in Congress.

What could energize African-American turnout in 2014 that was absent in 2010? The answer is clear: Candidates speaking directly to the economic depression in African-American communities with a plan to rebuild the rungs on the ladder of upward mobility, including putting people back to work at good jobs; quality, affordable education; accessible health care and retirement security.

To be fair, President Obama has frequently touted a jobs program that would put additional money into infrastructure spending and schools, and he has in the past championed the kind of green energy investments that can provide a broad range of new job opportunities in high-unemployment communities. He has promised more of the same in the upcoming budget proposal. But President Obama’s proposals have never been proportional to the need, trimmed by the political constraints imposed by an obstructionist Republican opposition and timid Democratic allies.

That opposition in the immediate term certainly renders out of reach anything on the scale of the Congressional Progressive Caucus infrastructure plan, which would not only add 7 million jobs in the first year but would produce a sizable share of those jobs in communities and job categories where African Americans are strongly represented. But President Obama and Democratic party elected officials should want to be seen as leading the fight for economic justice and equality for African Americans, hastening the day when economic disparities rooted in America’s legacy of racism are eradicated once and for all. Accepting the limits imposed by the inheritors of the Confederate legacy may appear politically expedient, but it is the way of moral and electoral bankruptcy.


By: Isaiah J. Poole