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Obama and the Black Economy


One has to believe in something or someone in order to betray it or them.

From the start, President Barack Obama has shown little interest or loyalty in the issues that affect the poor, working class and people of color in the United States. For almost his entire first term he didn’t utter the words poor or poverty. Early on he reminded African Americans: ‘I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America…’

So it’s not so surprising that Obama hasn’t done much of substance or impact to ease, let alone end, the depression in the black community. He’s been on the side of the banks and Wall Street since co-signing George Bush’s and Hank Paulsen’s TARP ‘too big to fail’ bank bailout at the expense of underwater homeowners and middle-class taxpayers.

That’s because he believes more in bogus Wall Street privatization efforts that slide money to fats cats trading on Charter Schools and insurance companies poised to reap the benefits of ObamaCare and social security privatization. It’s the belief in the “trickle-down” economic myth of Reaganism and the Wall Street 1 percent rather than the many people who are now close to living in the streets because they lost their homes to foreclosure and other wealth-draining schemes.

As his economic race legacy unfolds, Obama’s recovery is worse than the George W. Bush recession for blacks. Overall median household income has fallen over $4,000 since he took office but black Americans have had a decrease in real income of over 11 percent. Unemployment is officially at 14-plus percent for blacks, nearly double that of the overall economy. When Obama entered the White House in January 2009, black unemployment was 12.7 percent. The highest black unemployment rate during Obama’s time in office was 16.7 percent in August 2011. During the eight years of Bush black unemployment didn’t rise above 13 percent. The rate reached its highest point of the Bush presidency, 12.1 percent, in December 2008.

Black youth unemployment is more than likely above 50 percent with entry level drugs sales as their seemingly only viable employment option.

Yet now a lame duck Obama can’t get anything through Congress to ease the stress with either black adults or youth.

He’s even leading the charge against those working and paying into a retirement fund thinking they’d have a little security in their old age. From the very start, under the banner of his Simpson-Bowles’ Deficit Reduction Commission, he’s been on a course to betray Social Security and the foundation of the New Deal social safety net. Witness the administration’s willingness to limit cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, which will surely have a far greater negative impact on black and Latino senior citizens and boost poverty among them. The Economic Policy Institute found that ‘after a lifetime of what are often lower wages, higher-cost borrowing and a limited ability to save, 26 percent of black seniors and 25 percent of Latino seniors depend on Social Security for 100 percent of their income, compared to about 14 percent of white retirees.’

Obama could have helped when he was first elected and his party controlled both houses of Congress. After the 2012 midterm election it was the hostile (Republican) Congress defense as to why he couldn’t do anything. That was followed by the Romney boogieman excuse and defense. Now, Obama simply has no power to help blacks.

He can limit the hurt. If he wants to so. Yet my fear, if the attack on Social Security is any indication, is that he will readily aid in the continuing and future economic destabilization of the community that voted for him in record numbers and have remained loyal and uncritical despite his political and economic ambivalence towards them.

At this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, comedian Conan O’Brien joked: “Mr. President, your hair is so white, it could be a member of your cabinet.” Black exclusion and disparities under Obama are now reduced to a joke. And Obama walks to the podium to rap music and makes Jay-Z jokes. And those in the bubble at the top laugh. As Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report wrote: “When Barack Obama leaves the White House in January 2017, what will black America, his earliest and most consistent supporters, have to show for making his political career possible. We’ll have the T-shirts and buttons and posters, the souvenirs. That will be the good news. The bad news is what else we’ll have … and not.”

At the very least, African Americans should mobilize to head off the erosion of their wealth invested in social security. They should demand that those that they send to the House and Senate protect that interest even in the face of a president all too willing to sell them out. He may be limited to two terms. They are not.

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics (CounterPunch/AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at

This article was originally published by the Institute for Public Accuracy.


Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics (CounterPunch/AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is the editor, along with JoAnn Wypijewski and Jeffrey St. Clair, of Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence from CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at

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