Obama Heads the Right Way on Poverty, Jobs

Scholar William Julius Wilson tells us what it will take for more blacks and the poor to have jobs.

Job seekers at a job fair in Chicago (Scott Olson/Getty Images News)
Job seekers at a job fair in Chicago (Scott Olson/Getty Images News)

(The Root) — Despite all the rhetoric about reclaiming the American dream for middle-class Americans in this past presidential election, Barack Obama has done more for lower-income Americans than any president since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Quite frankly, I think that Obama’s programs prevented poverty — including concentrated poverty — from rapidly rising over the past several years, considering the terrible economy. 

Obama’s stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) earmarked $80 billion dollars for low-income Americans, which included an extension of unemployment benefits, a temporary increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and substantial additional funds for food stamps (what we now call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). It also included nearly $4 billion in job training and workforce-enhancement programs, and $2 billion for neighborhood-stabilization efforts. 

Moreover, I consider the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly termed Obamacare) as an antipoverty program. Over the long term, this health care legislation will significantly benefit lower-income Americans. Indeed, the share of Americans who are uninsured declined between 2010 and 2011. And this improvement was in part due to a provision of the health care bill that allows children to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until they reach age 26.

Also, Obama worked out a deal with Congress to address the impact of the recession on lower-income Americans, a negotiation that led to a 13-month extension of federal unemployment benefits for more than 7 million jobless workers, as well as the continuation of programs that benefit the poor and working classes, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the refundable component of the Child Tax Credit and the 2 percent reduction in the Social Security payroll tax for one year — all of which put more money in the hands of ordinary Americans. Finally, I should mention the $144 billion package passed in early 2012 by Congress to extend the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance, programs that Obama pushed.

Considering how these policies fit in with the broader sweep of policy changes over the last few decades, one has to acknowledge that the legislation enacted was in response to the extraordinary economic situation that now plagues this country. Taken together, they far exceed any legislation beneficial to low-income Americans passed during the Carter, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton or George W. Bush administrations.

But much more needs to be done to address the continuing effects of fundamental changes in the economy, especially the impact of these changes on the African-American community.