Bin Laden's gone, now let's focus on creating jobs in urban America
Jonathan P Hicks | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.
Barack Obama is faring a bit better in the approval ratings from Americans in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It's clearly a historic event that continues to dominate the world's news coverage, even now, a week after the terrorist leader was killed in Pakistan.
Just a few days after bin Laden's death was another news story that received decidedly less attention. Nonetheless, it reflects a nagging, persistent quandary that could damage the president's reelection prospects over the long term, even more than bin Laden's demise may have boosted them.
That news came from the Labor Department, which announced that the nation's unemployment rate had ticked upward a smidgen, from 8.8 to 9.0, despite the addition of more than 240,000 new jobs. It's news that reflects a stubborn predicament that seems to show no sign whatsoever of going away. And every economist and, for that matter, virtually anyone in a major American urban area, knows that the unemployment problem remains even more dire for the nation's Black and Latino jobseekers. In fact, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday that the percentage of employed Black men dropped to its lowest level since they began compiling records in 1972.
The other stubborn truth is that if the Obama administration fails to find a way to chisel down the unemployment rate for Black and Latino America, he will find his reelection prospects badly crippled indeed. A year from now, in the summer heat of the reelection campaign, the killing of Osama bin Laden will be far less prominent in the minds of most of America. Many Americans will be thinking instead of the continued, unabated joblessness that casts a heavy cloud over their lives and their view of the country's long-term viability.
The need to focus on Black and Latino unemployment is particularly crucial. For one thing, Black unemployment is typically double the level of joblessness among white Americans. For Latino workers, the rate of unemployment is typically about 1.5 times higher than the white unemployment rate. In a country that is becoming increasingly more Brown and Black and less white, the need to solve the employment crisis in communities of color is nothing short of a singularly significant investment in the future.
Algernon Austin, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, said that the problem is particularly pronounced in the nation's 50 largest urban areas, where unemployment tends to be higher than the national average.
"Until we fill the jobs hole, many communities will continue to suffer," claimed a report by the organization. "High rates of unemployment cause immediate harm to families and communities and cause long-term social and economic damage that cannot be easily fixed even when the economy finally recovers."
The truth is that there is a need for a new and vigorous jobs program that targets the nation's resources, with attention paid to the urban areas where unemployment is highest. There is surely little to no enthusiasm in the Republican-led House of Representatives for such a program--they are fixated instead on cutting government spending, a move that would surely eliminate even more jobs in urban America. But it's nonetheless something the president should emphasize again and again. It would not only help his standing with the Americans who are his most loyal supporters, it would be the right thing for the long-term health and stability of the country.