What Has Obama Done for Poor People?
He's done a lot, says the White House in a new report. Anti-poverty advocates weigh in on their progress.
"The question now becomes whether or not those modifications are sustainable and successful, because we're seeing high re-default rates," she said. "Another concern is around the administration being led by the industry instead of leading the industry. These are banks and institutions that received TARP bailout funds, and I think the administration can do more to make their loan-modification program more effective."
Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, expressed his concern more sharply. "The decimation of black wealth through predatory lending and foreclosures has been a major factor in the widening of the racial wealth gap in this country. What's been really disappointing is that the administration is advocating for a settlement with some of the biggest banks that amounts to a slap on the wrist for the widespread deception and fraud against investors and homeowners," he said, arguing that these firms should be prosecuted, or at least investigated. "Big banks are getting off, while everyday black people in communities all across the country are left holding the bag."
Relief for the Unemployed
Obama's immediate response to the ever-rising unemployment rate -- which officially stands at 16 percent for African Americans -- has been repeated extensions of unemployment benefits. While pushing a contested bill last summer, he said, "We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven't been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening."
According to census data, extended unemployment insurance in 2010 kept 3.2 million people above the poverty line. The American Jobs Act calls for another extension, as well as legislation making it illegal to refuse to hire out-of-work job applicants.
"I commend the Obama administration for beginning to put the pieces of the economic puzzle back together -- but when they talk about ‘long-term unemployed,' the longest of the long-term unemployed are not a part of that conversation," said Gregg Rosen, president of the American 99ers Union, an organization representing individuals who have been unemployed for longer than 99 weeks and have exhausted all state and federal unemployment insurance benefits. These workers are not included in Obama-backed legislation, effectively having disappeared from the government's notice.
Rosen contends that extending benefits to the millions of Americans who make up "the 99ers" would have a stimulating effect on the economy. "You're looking at more than 7 million Americans, and the average unemployment insurance check is $303 per week. If you put those dollars into the hands of the 99er community, you're looking at a return investment of billions of dollars every week in economic spending. That, to me, is a solid stimulus."
"In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education," Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union address. Calling for changes in public education, his $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition rewards states with funding if they present innovative plans for turning around their lowest-performing schools.
Modeled after the successful Harlem Children's Zone -- which provides charter schools, parenting workshops and weekend community centers to support education from "cradle through college" -- the administration's Promise Neighborhoods grant program helps cities jump-start their own neighborhood interventions. On the higher-education front, the president has more than doubled Pell Grants for low-income college students.