Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
While issues such as abortion and the general state of economy have dominated headlines and campaign ads much of this presidential election cycle, the candidates' specific policies — especially as they relate to communities of color — have often gone overlooked. The Root took a look at where President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney stand on issues from Pell Grants to solving the foreclosure crisis to addressing the financial concerns of HBCUs.
While the October 2012 jobs data puts the national unemployment rate at 7.9, the black unemployment rate is at a whopping 14.3 percent. The Obama administration has utilized tax credits as an incentive for businesses to increase hiring and grow jobs, among them the Returning Heroes Tax Credit to encourage businesses to hire unemployed veterans. The president also successfully pushed for a payroll tax cut extension (pdf), a move that his administration estimates will save American workers and businesses thousands of dollars per year, thus spurring further growth.
Obama frequently credits the auto industry bailout as a saver of jobs and touts the creation of manufacturing jobs over the last two years, as well as his plan to bring jobs back from overseas by eliminating tax credits for outsourcing.
Gov. Romney has promised to create 12 million jobs and has summarized his plan to create jobs in five points that include "championing small business," "cutting the deficit," "energy independence," creating "the skills that work for America" and "trade that works for America." However, he offers few specifics, except: replacing Obamacare, protecting business from "strong-arm labor union tactics," and reducing taxes on businesses. According to an analysis by the Boston Globe his record on job creation is mixed. The Globe noted that during Romney's four years as Massachusetts' chief executive "the state added a net 31,000 jobs, a growth rate of less than 1 percent compared to 5 percent nationally during the same period," although during that time unemployment did fall, but remained higher than the national average.
In 2010, the president signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act — which included provisions such as a proposed $850 million to HBCUs — many of which are struggling financially — over a 10-year period. Additionally, in 2012, the Obama administration announced that $228 million in grants would be awarded to 97 historically black colleges and universities.
There is very little in Gov. Romney's record regarding historically black colleges and universities; however, he stressed the importance of education for minority students in his July 2012 speech before the NAACP, when he said he will "address the institutionalized inequality in our education system."
In response to the foreclosure crisis, which has disproportionately affected minorities — between 2007 and 2009, blacks and Latinos were more than 70 percent more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure than whites — the president signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act in 2009, which makes it a crime to make a false statement on a mortgage application or overvalue a property in an attempt to unduly influence a mortgage.
The administration also supported a temporary moratorium on foreclosures in 2009 and created a foreclosure-prevention fund intended to aid 9 million struggling homeowners; independent analysis, though, has found the fund has helped only about 2 million people so far. In 2010 the Obama administration established a unit focused exclusively on racially based lending bias within the Justice Department's civil rights division, which has led to multimillion dollar settlements with banking institutions such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
Though early in the presidential campaign Gov. Romney stated, "Don't try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom," he has since stated he has a plan to address the crisis. His plan includes: selling 200,000 government-owned vacant foreclosed homes and using "foreclosure alternatives" for those unable to pay their mortgages. He also wants to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, something on which he and the president agree.
Since taking office, President Obama has increased the maximum Pell Grant award, which provides more than $4 billion to black students a year, from $905 to $5,635, and the number of students receiving Pell Grants has doubled under his administration. Research has shown that black students with Pell Grants are more likely to finish college and are also more likely to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors.
His campaign had previously critiqued the current federal Pell Grant program as unsustainable, and the budget proposed in the House by his running mate Paul Ryan aimed to create stricter eligibility guidelines for the program. However, in addition to freezing the maximum amount of Pell Grants distributed for 10 years, Gov. Romney recently said in the second presidential debate, "I want to make sure we keep our Pell Grant program growing." Yet Ryan proposed a budget in the House of Representatives that would have cut Pell Grants by 42 percent.
A defining policy piece of President Obama's first term has been the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as "Obamacare." Key provisions of the act include insuring that those with pre-existing conditions, who often struggled to obtain coverage, now can get coverage, along with a provision allowing young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance policy through age 26. Additionally women no longer have to pay a co-pay for preventative services such as contraception.
As Massachusetts' governor, Romney signed legislation that became the model for "Obamacare." Today, however, he has said that one of his first acts as president would be to repeal Obamacare. He would then strive to enact his own plan, components of which include key features of Obamacare, such as coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, although under the Romney plan they will have had to maintain continuous coverage over time to qualify. A key difference between the plans is that the Romney plan would give individual states block grants to fund Medicaid programs, and thereby decrease federal funding for such programs, which provide medical coverage for the poor.
President Obama nominated two confirmed Supreme Court justices: his former solicitor general, Elena Kagan, and the first Latina Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Though Vice President Joe Biden recently reiterated in the vice presidential debate that the administration has no litmus test when choosing judiciary nominees, he also intimated that the Obama administration would be unlikely to nominate justices who would jeopardize the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Supreme Court nominations over the next four years could directly affect people of color. In September the ACLU filed a lawsuit that some are calling "the most important civil rights case in a generation." The suit accuses Morgan Stanley of violating the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) by setting a system in motion that led to communities of color being disproportionately targeted for subprime loans, thus triggering the disproportionate impact of the mortgage crisis on people of color. Who knows if this case will make it all the way to the Supreme Court, but it if does, the decision could have a profound impact.
Many have speculated that any Supreme Court justices nominated by Gov. Romney would be among the most conservative appointed in history, in part because he has previously praised Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both nominated by the George W. Bush administration and praised by conservative groups. Additionally the Romney campaign's chief legal adviser and co-chair of its Justice Advisory Committee is former Acting Attorney General Robert Bork, a conservative legal scholar known for his belief in "originalism," a literal interpretation of the Constitution.
Bork's belief in this philosophy led him to disagree with the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision decriminalizing abortion and the Griswold decision legalizing contraception access, and to oppose the Civil Rights Act. He also supported the right of Southern states to charge a poll tax.
Though some may consider President Obama extremely liberal, the ACLU disagrees. The national civil liberties organization awarded the president 16 out of 21 "lady liberty" torches for his positions on various civil rights issues, putting him behind civil libertarian and conservative darling Ron Paul, yet miles ahead of his general election opponent Gov. Romney (see next slide). However, President Obama has gained more credence as a civil rights proponent since taking office, in part for announcing his support for LGBT causes such as gay marriage, his successful efforts to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell," his executive order to protect young undocumented immigrants and his administration's support of affirmative action, as demonstrated by the amicus brief it filed in support of the University of Texas in the Fisher case, which is currently being decided by the Supreme Court.
The ACLU gave Gov. Romney its lowest scores for civil liberties: a zero, ranking him behind conservative peers like Newt Gingrich. Though he stated in one of the most memorable moments of the second presidential debate that he was brought "binders full of women" upon request in his efforts to diversify his gubernatorial cabinet, his record on diversity is more mixed. During his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, he eliminated the state's Office of Affirmative Action via executive order. While he is on record as stating he supports companies publicizing their diversity data, he has also stated he strongly opposes any forms of so-called "quotas" in hiring or admissions. He also opposes gay marriage.