COMMENTARY THE STATE OF THE UNION – LESSONS FOR BLACK AMERICA
Correspondent: Curtis R. Monday
President Barack Obama addressed the nation, and with the entire Congress, Supreme Court Justices, invited guests and all of America watching, the agenda for the upcoming year was set. I listened intently and marveled at how meticulously President Obama addressed each pressing issue. Although I felt President Obama thoroughly and clearly articulated his thoughts and plans, I wondered how his message was being received within Black America.
I understand that President Obama is the leader of the entire country, but I wondered if there existed some within the African American community who struggled with the message because they may have felt as if our specific needs were not being addressed. There is a growing sentiment within the African American community critical of President Obama for not specifically acknowledging the needs unique to Black America. There are some within the African American community that feel as if the President has turned his back on Black America by not explicitly speaking to a “black agenda.” If you listened with a careful ear, one would have realized that the major points of the State of The Union (jobs, education, infrastructure and debt) spoke to the core issues plaguing Black America.
The stagnation in hiring and the unemployment rate has adversely impacted African Americans. Although the national unemployment rate is at 9.1%, for African Americans that rate is nearly 17%. I remain cautiously optimistic about this foundation, but African Americans still face some harsh realities. Currently 32% of African Americans with the United States have either a zero or negative net worth. Despite constituting more than 13% of the nation’s population, the total net worth of African Americans is only 1.2%.
The State of The Union highlighted that if America is to be competitive with countries like China and India in the future, education will be the key ingredient to get us there. Nationally, 25% of students don’t graduate from high school. The national drop-out rate for African Americans is nearly 40%. Within this discussion of education, President Obama spoke of the creation of a permanent college tax credit and providing support for community colleges, which have been a “Damascus Road” for African Americans during turbulent economic times. These local institutions allow blacks to retool themselves, and to be competitively repositioned within this tough labor market.
During his Address, President Barack Obama identified improvements in infrastructure. The creation of new roads and railways will require a new labor force, and African Americans are poised to be potential recipients for these jobs.
As of December 31, 2010 the United States debt was $14 trillion, approximately 96.5% of the total annual gross domestic product. Black America benefits from this national focus. As America begins to respect the dollar, Black America should also respect the power of our dollar and purchasing power. Between 1990 and 2003, Black America’s purchasing power rose 127% ($318 billion to $723 billion) and currently is approximately $965 billion.
During the State of The Union we watched Republicans and Democrats break from tradition and sit together as a symbolic gesture. Whether there is partisanship in Congress or differences among Black America, our collective future depends upon identifying common interests and working from the center. As America focuses on the challenges that lie ahead, Black America should retool also. For Black America, the State Of The Union can not be an annual event, but a continuous activity and exercise in securing our future.