This is Part 3 of The Agenda: What Obama Has Done for You, a series of articles looking at President Barack Obama's record on issues that affect blacks.
Come Nov. 2, most polling says Americans will be entering voting booths with two things on their minds: fruitless job searches and the subsequent lightness of their pocketbooks. With unemployment still above 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many voters are scared, and that could mean big midterm losses for the Democrats. (For whatever reason, it's a human tendency not to repair the ship you're on but to abandon it completely for a different, more slowly sinking ship.)
But the Democrats have, in fact, done a lot to try to repair the economy. The results certainly haven't moved as quickly as anyone would have liked — as Valerie Jarrett told The Root earlier this month, “The depth of the recession was far worse than we expected, and as a result, it was going to take a lot longer to get out of this hole” — but the attempts where there, and many of them were specifically directed toward African Americans.
The Root takes a look at the initiatives that have reaped the most benefits for black Americans:
Job Creation and Training: "A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats"
While the Obama administration's favorite maritime analogy is far too simplistic to make sense of everything going wrong in the United States — gays haven't been lifted out of "Don't ask, don't tell," for instance — it does make sense for job creation. The reality is that it's impossible for every currently unemployed American to re-enter the labor force at once; the growth must and will be gradual, with the financial benefits of employment starting at a nucleus and then rippling out slowly to others.
That said, a few job creation and training programs have been aimed directly at communities of color. The Recovery Act, for instance, provided $150 million for Pathways out of Poverty grants, which offered green job training to low-income youth and adults in underserved communities (read: minorities).
The president has also enacted the Stakeholder Outreach Initiative, which consists of teams established to assist small businesses with obtaining federal grants. According to a policy explanation sent from the White House, the teams "will focus on women, minorities, veterans and businesses based in underserved communities."
Business Investment: Helping Them to Help Themselves
The Community Development Capital Initiative flew under the radar compared with the multibillion-dollar bailouts, but it was tremendously helpful for dozens of small banks nationwide. Using more than $580 million, the government floated cheap loans to nearly 100 banks and credit unions in markets underserved by traditional banks, thus freeing up those banks to lend to small businesses in their regions.
Carver Bancorp, the New York-based holding company for America's largest black-owned bank, got nearly $19 million thanks to the initiative.
Financial Regulation: Protecting Black Consumers and Creating Pathways to Jobs
Much like health care reform, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is a landmark piece of legislation created under Obama's watch. While it's by no means perfect, it will have some real impact on the financial future of African Americans, who, as we all know by now, have been hit by the recession harder than anyone.
First, the law established the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. The only federal agency of its kind, the organization is tasked with ensuring the fairness of things like credit card plans, mortgages and student loans, and it has the authority to establish new restrictions on financial institutions as it sees fit.
What's more, the bureau will have lots of power over the lending and mortgage industries, thus giving it the controls necessary to prevent the sort of predatory lending that has resulted in black and Latino borrowers paying significantly higher interest rates than their white and Asian counterparts. Auto loans and payday lenders, which frequently take advantage of communities underserved by normal financial institutions, also fall under the bureau's purview.
Besides protecting America's most vulnerable consumers, Wall Street reform also includes efforts to open up the financial industry to minority workers. An underreported section of the law gives the federal government the right to end contracts with firms that don't show a "fair inclusion" of ethnic-minority and female staffers. In 2009 just 5.6 percent of the nation's securities, commodities and financial-services sales agents were African American. By improving those numbers, the administration hopes to influence a Wall Street culture that has often looked at minorities as little more than susceptible cash cows.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.