As everyone who has seen a newspaper or watched a television news show knows by now, the brinksmanship between Republican and Democrats in Washington, D.C., has threatened to send the United States into default. Wall Street insists that the country will run out of money within a few days if the nation’s debt-ceiling crisis is not solved. It is a national crisis with around-the-clock coverage looking at whether the nation will go into default and whether its credit rating will be downgraded.
Meanwhile, a type of debt-ceiling crisis is being played out repeatedly in households throughout the country with a great deal less attention. With an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, Americans in staggering numbers are straining-and often failing-to meet their own financial obligations. The truth is that for some time, there has been a form of a debt-ceiling crisis among one-tenth of Americans.
In their cases, though, there are no high-level congressional talks about raising their household “debt ceilings” and no national discussion or congressional strategies to help them find work and pay their bills. For so many Americans, credit ratings have been shattered and default is a dehumanizing reality.
A national unemployment rate of 9.2 translates into an unemployment rate of more than 16 percent for African-Americans overall and 18 percent for Black males-the highest unemployment rate of any group currently recorded. Among Black youth, the numbers jump even higher, reaching 30 percent or higher in some urban areas. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it best: “This is a crisis.”
Cleaver and the Black Caucus have invested some energy in what they call their “10-20-30” plan to curb poverty. It’s an initiative that calls for targeted direct investment in urban communities that have suffered from long-term joblessness and poverty for more than 30 years. The Caucus recently announced a jobs tour intended to link unemployed people in urban areas with jobs. The tour will start in Cleveland next month and will continue in Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles.
It’s a perfectly pleasant idea, but it’s a little like asking Obama and John Boehner to solve the nation’s debt-ceiling crisis by asking members of Congress to conduct fish fries in their districts.
Instead, what is needed now is a bold, national strategy aimed at curbing the nation’s seemingly unrelenting unemployment crisis, a plan driven by the imprimatur of the president of the United States and aimed at bringing assistance to the areas of the nation where the crisis is most severe. Bold leadership from the White House would not only be welcomed, for it is crucial for the country and good for the president as well.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that more than a third of Americans hold the opinion that Obama’s policies are harming the economy and that “confidence in his ability to create jobs is sharply eroding among his base.” While that’s not good news for the president, there is at least some consolation in the fact that the poll found that Americans are even more unhappy with the Republicans in Congress.
But few Americans-at least few who have any understanding of the current political realities in the United States-expect congressional Republicans to lead urban America out of its unemployment crisis. Americans are looking for leadership on this issue from Obama. It’s part of why he was so strongly supported by urban America.
In the end, the president and Congress will reach some sort of agreement on the nation’s debt ceiling. And after they do, it will be more than time enough for the president to develop and present a far-reaching plan aimed at reducing the nation’s unemployment numbers. It’s a crisis that requires as much attention as the one they are now so exhaustively laboring through.