Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who a few months ago said Blacks were "getting tired" of the president's unresponsiveness to Black unemployment, is now on the bandwagon. In response to the American Jobs Act (AJA), the Hill blog quoted the Congresswoman saying, "[President Obama] heard [the Black community]. As a matter of fact we can see our hand print all over this proposal. We're pleased about it."
Minority advocates should be pleased, but they shouldn't be tripping over one another to sing the president's praises. Are there some good things in the AJA? To be sure. But, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the bill "is like a check that comes back marked insufficient funds."
Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately harmed by the housing and financial crisis. Prior to the recession, Latino unemployment was the lowest in the country at roughly 6 percent. Today, it stands at 13 percent. Blacks were experiencing recession-like unemployment rates before the Great Recession. Now, they are experiencing an economic depression with 16.7 percent unemployed, over 25 percent underemployed, and 27 percent living below the poverty line.
Both groups also saw the wealth they acquired evaporate almost over night. Hispanics lost 66 percent of their wealth and Blacks lost 54 percent. And, as I explained in "White/Minority Wealth Disparities: The Rest of the Story," both minority communities experienced disproportionate losses not only because their wealth was locked into their homes, but also because Black and Latino assets are more vulnerable in economic downturns.
The American Jobs Act does little to address the disproportionate harm experienced by these communities. Extending unemployment insurance was a necessity, lest more Black and Latino families slip into poverty. But of the almost 3 million unemployed Blacks and 2.6 million unemployed Latinos, less than half will be immediately helped by the extension of UI. And this does not include the more than 11 million Blacks and Latinos over 20 who are not in the labor force at all. They need more than UI to pull themselves up and out of this recession.