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.
Education advocate and author Steve Perry pounces on Obama's reform agenda. "I think the idea behind Race to the Top is a solid one, but with the country in a tremendous deficit, and a recession on top of that, there's not enough money to sustain the changes," he said. "We're borrowing from our children's future with the expectation that it will improve their future?"
Perry, principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn. -- and outspoken school-voucher campaigner -- says that instead of investing money in schools, federal education money should go directly to families and let them choose the best place for them. "I have more faith in families to pick good schools than I do administrators and Board of Education members, who keep failed schools open. Parents always choose the best schools in the community. If we let them pick them, we'd only have the best ones stay open. I'm not for education reform; I'm for education revolution."
Plugging several provisions from the Recovery Act, the administration says that its youth summer jobs program for low-income youths employed 367,000 young adults -- approximately 40 percent of them African American -- in 2009 and 2010. The legislation's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families emergency contingency fund hired 260,000 low-income adults in subsidized jobs.
In June the Department of Labor announced $39.7 million in grants to help low-income noncustodial parents and ex-offenders gain job skills (and boost their employability) by placing them in temporary, paid work experiences. And the American Job Act's infrastructure investment reserves $50 million for transportation-related job training for minorities, women and low-income workers.
"Independent economists have looked at this jobs bill, and they've said it will create nearly 2 million jobs," Obama said on Tuesday at a Virginia high school during his three-day bus tour promoting the American Jobs Act, expressing confusion over why Republicans would vote it down. "I don't want us to be playing politics all the time. I want us to meet this moment. I want us to get to work. "
Despite the administration's current efforts, there's still that stubborn 9 percent national unemployment rate. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is reluctant to say that the president hasn't done all he can. "It's important to understand that the administration is not making decisions in an unconstrained environment where the president can do whatever he wants," said Ellison, referring to the Republican blockade in Congress. "The bottom line is, the president has been fighting to fully invest in jobs and alleviate poverty, and he's trying to do the same thing now."
Ellison's primary quibble with the president is not with his policies so much as his political tactics. "I think his orientation toward consensus, and trying to bring two sides together, has been a miscalculation. He's always started out the conversation with the spirit of compromise, and the Republicans are not," he said.
"I think he could have been a lot more combative with them from the beginning, but I've noticed a shift in the president's rhetoric with the American Jobs Act," Ellison continued. "I think it's an acknowledgment that he's dealing with unreasonable people, and he doesn't have to negotiate."
Editor's note: Watch the live stream of The Root's Q&A with the White House on Oct. 20 at 5:30 p.m. The Root's Gynthia Gordy will moderate a conversation with Melody Barnes and Valerie Jarrett about the American Jobs Act and what the administration is doing to help the poor.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.