This posting runs the risk of being put into what Hillary Clinton calls "the basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” For the past few decades it has been increasingly difficult to have an objective discussion about any policy which impacts demographic groups differently, in part because Democratic political strategy has been built upon assembling a coalition of aggrieved groups. But let's try.
Going into office, Barack Obama's ethnicity was his greatest differentiating factor from prior presidents; when historians look back decades from now, it will remain a major feature of his era. He entered office on a swell of optimism that his election represented an affirmation of American multi-cultural progress, that he would help to put the legacy of slavery behind us, and that his election would lead to an uplifting of the African American community. With 93% of a record turnout for Obama in 2012, this core group certainly liked what they saw in his first term, and wanted more. So, beyond the historical significance and the personal political benefit of Obama, how'd that work out?
Let's divide the answer into two parts: specific policies that impacted a quantifiable number of African-Americans, and the general standing of African-Americans in society.
First, specific policies and actions which directly impacted large numbers of African Americans:
- By the first quarter of 2016, the number of African Americans without health care insurance had dropped from 20.9% to 11.4%, twice the rate of improvement of whites. Rates went up for those who had previously had insurance, many had to find new providers, taxes were increased, and many of the other detriments of Obamacare impacted African Americans, but, disproportionately, Blacks benefited from the increased coverage.
- The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been increased since 2009, but President Obama increased the minimum for workers under federal contracts to $10.10 by Executive Order in 2014, and has consistently advocated for a broader increase as states and cities have raised local requirements to as much as $15.00. Economists vary in the numbers, but most agree that raising the minimum increases the real unemployment rate among African American youth which currently stands at about 50%.
- President Obama's first Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan, made a major effort to address what Michelle Obama and John Boehner called a "major civil rights issue," the disproportionate inadequate education provided to minorities in public K-12 systems, but in the fullness of time the teachers unions have blocked meaningful reforms - parent choice, teacher tenure laws, connecting student performance to teacher evaluations. As demonstrated in Vergara v California, inadequate schools and teacher protection laws disproportionately impact minority students - and the Democratic political establishment does not care.
- Some 18% of the federal judges appointed by Obama have been African American.
- Voting rights investigations and lawsuits have been a hallmark of the Obama administration, and particularly his first Attorney General, Eric Holder. Good for Democrats; good for African American politicians; for the public at large, not so much.
- The Pigford Case , which began as a settlement for 91 minority farmers who were allegedly denied loans by the Department of Agriculture, exploded to some 90,000 beneficiaries and $4.4 billion in payments, some in counties where claims exceeded the number of farms, and Eric Holder's Justice Department found it adequate to grant $50,000 payments with nothing more than a a claim that they had thought of applying for a loan, but were deterred by racism.
- As disability claims have increased 50% in the past decade to over 10 million, the Social Security Administration has been an equal opportunity enabler.
But let's also take a look at the general standing of African Americans in society:
- Some statistics - during Obama's first six years, the black poverty rate increased from 25.8% to 27.2%; from 2010 to 2013 median incomes dropped 10% to $33,000, much more severe than for whites; and family net worth dropped 20% to about $18,000 while white family net worth inched up to $142,000. While the headline unemployment rate was down from 12.7% to 8.8% in the six years, the labor force participation rate - the portion of the people of work force age who were working or looking for work - dropped by 2%.
- African Americans have been victimized by the same forces of globalization and technology that have motivated many of the white Trump voters, but to a greater extent, they have been impacted by the presence of 11 million illegal immigrants, largely with low end skills and a decent work ethic, who have put tremendous pressure on the employment and wage structure of the African American community. In the Democratic political strategy they have been expendable.
- There has been no call from the first African American president for the types of family reform that are needed to reverse the accelerating trends: changing cultural attitudes about education; reforming welfare laws to encourage marriage before babies; encouraging self-reliance and entrepreneurship over government support.
- What we do have is a predictable deterioration of public safety in Black communities and a growing rift with police and fire departments as the Obama administration has sought out opportunities to vilify police behavior from his very public criticism of Cambridge, Massachusetts Sergeant James Crowley for his by-the-book treatment of a Black Harvard law professor, to the fiction of wrongdoing by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. The White House and the Department of Justice have lost any ability to lead the necessary national dialogue about policing in the African American community, leaving the stage to the Black Lives Matter protesters and watching the police retreat in cities such as Chicago where homicides - predominantly Black on Black - have soared to over 500 this year.
Net, net. The tactical things that could be done by an appointment or by a hand-out have been done, but the fundamentals of what any community wants - jobs, education, housing, safety, stable families - will have to wait for another administration.
This week's video is Libertarian Gary Johnson's response to the "Aleppo" question. For better or worse, the brief mental gaffe obscures a reasonable level of understanding and policy prescription.
bill bowen - 9/16/16