White House Focuses on Black Concerns

Blogging the Beltway: With a new report and a conference, Obama wants you to know what he's done for you lately.


Last month the White House released a report, Creating Pathways to Opportunity, outlining a host of actions that President Obama has taken to help low-income Americans. On Wednesday, the administration unveiled the African-American version of that report.

The President’s Agenda and the African American Community, a 44-page document, highlights many of the same policies as before, but with an emphasis on how they’ve benefited black people. According to the report, for example, the Recovery Act and its later expansions kept 1.3 million African Americans above the poverty line in 2010 alone, while this year the administration’s Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit has benefited 2.2 million black families and nearly half of all black children.

Other efforts that the report identifies as having a disproportionately positive impact on African Americans include subsidized jobs programs, increased funding for Pell Grants, mortgage-modification plans for distressed homeowners and health care reform.

Getting Out the Message

To further drive home the “We’ve done a lot of things to help black people!” message, on Wednesday the White House also held the African American Policy in Action Leadership Conference, the first event of its kind. The daylong series of panels and breakout sessions gathered black leaders from various community sectors (I spotted Susan L. Taylor, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Martin Luther King III) with Cabinet members of the Obama administration to discuss how the president’s efforts impact African Americans, solicit feedback and identify ways to build on their policy agenda.

“Everyone here had a role in our accomplishments to date,” said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in her welcoming remarks, “We want to have [our new report] as a document to share with you and brief you on, that you can then take back to your communities and describe all that we have done so far.”

The administration claimed that the idea of reports and conferences designed to publicize their own accomplishments didn’t actually originate at the White House. “This is something many of you have urged us to do, to do a better job at telling our story and explaining how these policies help the African-American community,” Danielle Gray, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told the crowd. “It was a good exercise for us to try to wrap it up into a more coherent vision.”

Why Did It Take So Long?

Although Wednesday’s event was called the first of its kind, the fact is the Obama administration has held similar large-scale events focused on combatting the challenges facing other racial and ethnic groups. In 2009, for example, President Obama held a White House Tribal Nations Conference, followed by a 2010 summit hosted by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In July the White House also hosted a Hispanic Policy Conference. But this was the administration’s first big summit looking specifically at the African-American community.