The Loop 21 Q&A with Angela Glover Blackwell
Exploring the Obama Administration's record on employment opportunities
Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and chief executive officer of Policylink, which advocates for public policies that improve the lives of minorities and those who live in low-income communities. Amidst the growing conversation around unemployment and debt, The Loop 21 caught with Glover Blackwell to discuss President Obama’s record on these problems, and what is needed to resolve them.
The Loop 21: What’s missing in the conversation on black unemployment?
Angela Glover Blackwell: Well, I would like to put it in a larger context. I really think the nation isn’t alarmed enough about how black and Latinos are doing economically and how that can impact the nation as a whole.
If the nation had paid attention when black unemployment hit 9% years ago they would have gotten a hint of what was coming. Same with foreclosures -- had there been alarm when black and Latino housing foreclosures hit alarming rates we could have headed the current national crisis off. We know minorities will be the majority by 2042, and are already the majority for those under 2 years old, and nearly half for those under 18. So, if they aren’t prepared with proper education and job readiness, the entire nation will not thrive. On black unemployment, we need to take it out of the conversation that says this is just something that’s happening to only a few people over there, because if black communities and Latino communities don’t do well then the nation doesn’t do well.
In addition, programs such as the American Graduation Initiative, which is vastly improving the graduation rates of Americans, including those from community colleges. This is very important because community colleges are pathways to the future. Mid-skill jobs are where the vast majority of job growth is seen, and many of those jobs often don’t require college degrees. Building community college capacity is something the Obama Administration is paying attention to address unemployment.
Also, infrastructure is so important. This nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. The people most often left behind are in communities that have been left behind because they don’t have the infrastructure that puts them in competitive positions in the global economy. It’s what we did to get out of the Great Depression, and it’s what we need to get out of this Great Recession.
Loop 21: So how do we avoid feeding black unemployment?
Glover Blackwell: We must make sure their is success in the Obama Administration’s programs like the Promise Neighborhoods, which targets education investments in poor communities. works. They had $10 million in the first budget to get planning started, and there’s $30 million now for cities that are competing for grants. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is another example, aimed at linking housing, education, public transit and access to jobs together, which is very important for low-income people to have access to jobs throughout the region. Those kinds of programs that Obama is pushing, as well as his initiatives on healthcare and obesity are all examples of what he’s doing to improve the jobs crisis. Any jobs discussion must be had within the larger conversation around investments in infrastructure, education, transportation and healthcare, and without proper targeting those investments will miss the mark.
Loop 21: Is the criticism from those who say he’s not doing enough for poor and minority communities fair?
Glover Blackwell: I think it is always difficult to fight for programs that help the most vulnerable in society. Recently, Michelle Obama unveiled plan to get more grocery stores in underserved communities. The Obama Administration secured investments for its Healthy Food Financing Initiative for $35 million in underserved communities. So these things are being championed even as we had the distraction of debt limits and the budget gridlocks. It’s hard to be a champion for these programs, but I hope we can begin to have a dialogue on the equity agenda, which has to be America’s agenda, because what happens to blacks and Latinos in the nation determines what will happen to the rest of the nation.
Loop 21: The discussion around “enough not being done” often centers on Obama, but isn’t Congress equally if not more at fault?
Glover Blackwell: Obama asked for $210 million for Promise Neighborhoods and he got $10 million. He asked for $400 million for the Healthy Food Initiative, but he got $35 million. I think the American people have to make it clear that they want to see these investments. It is not luxury spending, it is essential spending on people who are important to the nation’s future. They represent smart spending. Looking at everything together -- education, communities, job training, transportation, healthcare -- is much better than doing things in silos. But Congress is not making the commitment in dollars to make these programs work well. So I applaud the Obama Administration for coming up with the right strategies, but I have to complain about how Congress has not allowed his budget requests to come through.