A+ R A-

News Wire

Leaders Craft 'Black Agenda' for President Obama

E-mail Print PDF

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After a four-hour meeting of some the best minds in civil rights, business, education and the media, dozens of Black leaders from across the nation outlined a “Black agenda” that would be presented to President Barack Obama and Congress early next year.

The leadership group was assembled by Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League; Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network; Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Morial was quick to say that the meeting did not represent the formation of another group, but a collaborative effort to send a clear message to the White House during President Obama’s second term.

More than three dozen leaders attended, including National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chairman Cloves Campbell, Southern Christian Leadership President Charles Steele and grassroots activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

“We seek not to create a new organization, we seek to turn a corner towards a direction of being collective and proactive in the pursuit of the challenges our nation faces, said Morial.

Many of those challenges such as unemployment, poverty and health care disparities are far greater among Blacks, a group that supported Obama with 93 percent of their votes in November.

In a joint statement following the meeting, the group wrote:

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we must have a seat at the table to fully leverage the talents, intellectual capital and contributions of our leaders to craft a domestic agenda that brings African-Americans closer to parity and equality, and fulfills the promises of these milestones.”

Morial summarized five priorities that would be fleshed out in the new agenda:

* Achieve economic parity for African-Americans

* Promote equity in educational opportunity

* Protect and defend voting rights.

* Promote a healthier nation by eliminating healthcare disparities

* Achieve comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system

“This is a first step towards developing a public policy agenda and we pledge to cooperate and work together with clearly defined objectives,” said Morial.

NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton agreed.

“It was important that we had this kind of conversation to begin utilizing our resources and coordinating even better and moving these initiatives forward through each of our own disciplines,” he said.

Morial said that the lesson to be learned is that we have to be proactive.

“We can’t wait and sit back and expect any elected official to write an agenda,” Morial added. “We have to do it.”

Sharpton echoed that sentiment.

“We can not ask the president to write an agenda for us to himself,” explained Sharpton. “We need to take this from rhetoric to results from people saying we need an agenda to trying to sit down and collectively come up with one, from just complaining to convening and going forward.”

As a nation watched gay and Latino groups pressure President Obama to take definitive action on issues affecting their communities, critics of Black leaders have suggested that they didn’t complain enough during Obama’s first term.

Gay rights groups heckled President Obama during fundraising events and speeches. Latino leaders organized sit-ins near the White House in opposition to the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

In 2011, President Obama worked to repeal the Clinton era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on gay’s serving openly in the military, and in 2012 Obama became the first sitting president to support gay marriage.

And while the DREAM Act, legislation geared towards immigration reform, stalled in Congress, President Obama announced in 2012 that his administration would stop deporting young undocumented immigrants.

When CNN contributor and host of TV ONE’s “Washington Watch” Roland Martin pressed Morial on how far the leaders were willing to go to ensure that the White House addressed their agenda and if they were willing to take “external action” similar to what the civil rights leaders took 50 years ago, the NUL leader refused to go into the details.

“We are not going to let anyone peep our cards today in terms of what we are going to do,” said Morial.

He said that the group of leaders will reconvene and plans to present the Black agenda to President Obama and every member of Congress early next year.

Morial said, “We have to understand that the president works for us.”

Black Unemployment Drops Faster than for Whites

E-mail Print PDF

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell to 13.2 percent in November, down from 14.3 percent the previous month. The decrease of 1.1 percent was a sharper drop than for Whites (6.8 percent, from 7 percent in October) and Latinos (10 percent, the same as for the previous month), according to the monthly report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall, unemployment fell by two-tenths of a percent, to 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October.

The drop defied predictions of many economists who believed the superstorm combined with the shutdown of east coast financial centers and delayed fuel delivery to the region would have a severe impact on job growth.

The unemployment rate for Black men fell from 15.6 percent in October to 14.3 percent in November. Since June 2009, which marked the official end of the Great Recession, the rate for Black males has declined from 17.5 percent to 14.3 percent, a dip of 3.2 percent.

Black women saw their unemployment rate fall from 13.3 percent in October to 12.3 percent in November. While men enjoyed a drop of 4.2 percent since June 2009, the end of the Great Recession, the rate for Black women was virtually unchanged, from 12.7 percent in November to 12.3 percent over that same period.

Despite causing nearly $50 billion dollars in damages, the Labor Department said, “Hurricane Sandy did not substantively impact the national employment and unemployment estimates for November.”

Although the number of jobs added roughly matches the 151,000 average for the year, the number of adults working and looking for work, reflected in the labor participation rate, fell 0.2 points. The Black labor force also contracted (from 62.4 percent in October to 61.3 percent in November), despite a dramatic 1.1 percent drop in the unemployment rate to 13.2 percent in November. Economists often cite the small sample size for the month-to-month fluctuations in the unemployment rate for Blacks.

In comparison, the labor participation rate for Whites was 63.7 percent and the unemployment rate was 6.8 percent roughly half the rate for Blacks.

As President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner, war over 2 percent of the population, economists recommend actions that could bring peace of mind to the 98 percent this holiday season.

In a statement on the November jobs report, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan economic research group wrote:

“Policymakers could create a much rosier outlook for jobless workers and the economy generally if they would swiftly negotiate a deal that avoids the ‘fiscal cliff’ and raises the debt limit at the same time. The deal should include a set of measures, including an extension of federal emergency unemployment insurance (UI) for another year, that help the recovery gain strength while deficit-reduction measures phase in.”

Stone added that, “A deal that does not include an extension of federal emergency UI and provide other shorter-term stimulus measures would not just be cruel to jobless workers, it would make the recovery slower than it has to be.”

Stone joins a chorus of economists urging lawmakers to cut a deal that includes extending the unemployment insurance benefits.

Almost 2 million Americans get $1,200 a month in UI benefits. Nearly 1 million African Americans benefit from the program.

“That’s not a complete dead weight,” said Margaret Simms, director of Urban Institute’s Low-Income Working Families project. “People will have more money to buy groceries and pay their rent and their utilities all of which feed back into the economy.”

In a post titled, “Resilient Jobs Market Needs More Policy Help” Adam Hersh, an economist at the Center for American Progress said that President Obama’s plan will not only help families keep food on the dinner table, but also “strengthen recovery today and economic competitiveness tomorrow. “

Hersh added: “President Barack Obama offers this in his proposal to resolve the fiscal showdown, with $200 billion proposed for a payroll tax cut, expanded infrastructure investment, incentives for business investment, and renewed unemployment insurance, among other policies.”

Hersh said, that if politicians don’t act to jumpstart job growth, at the current 3-month trend, it would take nearly 20 years for our economy to return to “full employment.”

Blacks, Latinos Two-Thirds of Under-Banked

E-mail Print PDF

By Charlene Crowell
NNPA Columnist

More than 37 million American households were either unbanked or under-banked in 2011, according to a new report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). African-American households represent 34 percent of all under-banked consumers, the highest percentage among demographics surveyed.

When under-banked African-American and Latino households are combined, these two communities of color comprise more than 60 percent of the nation’s under-banked households.

Unbanked Hispanics households use alternative financial services (AFS) more actively than any other racial or ethnic group.

FDIC defines a household as “unbanked” if no one in the family has a checking or savings account. “Under-banked” households are those that have a checking or savings account but rely on AFS to transact personal business.

Another new FDIC finding is that the use of prepaid debit cards is growing, particularly among those who have never banked and the previously banked. From 2009 to 2011, use of prepaid debit cards by consumers who have never held bank accounts nearly doubled from six to 11 percent. Previously banked consumers’ usage grew from 19 to 27 percent.

Beyond racial disparities, unbanked and under-banked consumers find that AFSs are more convenient, easier to access, and present lower barriers to qualification than traditional banking. Ease of access was most often mentioned by consumers as the deciding factor in their choices. The second most frequent reason unbanked and under-banked consumers chose AFS was that banks either did not make small-dollar loans or the consumers did not qualify.

More than half of 2011’s under-banked consumers felt purchasing non-bank money orders or using a non-bank check-cashing service was more convenient than bank services. Unbanked consumers agreed by more than 29 percent.

On a state-by-state basis, FDIC’s analysis found the highest incidence of unbanked consumers in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Of those states, the highest percentage of unbanked consumers live in Mississippi (more than 15 percent.)

FDIC’s metro area data revealed that Texas’ most populous city, Houston, had the highest percentage of under-banked consumers (more than 28 percent). Other metro areas with 20 percent or higher numbers of under-banked consumers were: Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Md; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Arkansas; New Orleans, and Rochester, N.Y.

Uriah King, vice-president for state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), said, “Payday loans are no easy fix. Borrowers have to take out loan after loan just to stay afloat.”

Earlier CRL research found that payday loans lead to long-term debt. The payday industry’s $27 billion annual loan volume is largely derived by “loan churning,” the practice of taking out a new loan in order to pay an earlier one. Payday loans’ debt cycle generates $3.5 billion in fees alone each year, and the typical borrower is in debt most of the year – 212 days.

Other CRL research on overdraft fees found that most debit card transactions were triggered by an average expenditure of $20, but the typical fee charged for each overdraft is $34 per transaction. As a result, each year overdraft fees cost consumers $23.7 billion.

It could be argued that the increase in prepaid card usage is related to the high overdraft fees charged after consumers receive their monthly bank statements.

Uriah King of the Center for Responsible Lending stated. “Usurious payday loans and overdraft fees are clearly predatory products. No wonder so many consumers simply opt out completely. These findings are really uncover how far afield big bank practices are from serving the needs both families of color and/or low-income communities.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Supreme Court Could Force President Obama's Hand On Gay Marriage

E-mail Print PDF

By John Hollis
Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Blackstar

The days of hedging his bets and standing along the sidelines while the issue of same-sex marriage plays out in America could soon be over for President Barack Obama.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to hear two same-sex marriage cases this spring means the administration will be forced to take a stand on the hot-button issue that has elicited such a visceral reaction from every side.

Obama announced in May that his position had evolved to where he now favors same-sex marriage after previously having previously just supported just civil unions. The administration made clear last year that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies federal benefits to same-sex married couples.

But many mistakenly took his comments as a full embrace of same-sex marriage when that was never the case. The president was always very careful to say that believed it was an issue best left up to the states rather be decided at the federal level.

It was for that reason that the president and his attorney general, Eric Holder, were conspicuously quiet about federal district court judge’s ruling in 2010 that struck down a California ban on same-sex marriages from two years earlier as unconstitutional by finding a broad federal right to same-sex marriage.

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit also defined California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, but on narrower grounds.

Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to hear the matter, meaning the president will likely be forced to choose sides and anger a large part of his base whatever decision he makes.

African-Americans are Obama’s most ardent supporters are overwhelmingly conservative on social issues, gay marriage especially. Those in California were strongly in favor of Proposition 8.

But the gay and lesbian community also played key roles in Obama’s re-election last month and will be looking for him to come through for them.

The irony, of course, is that Obama has always preferred a more conservative approach to the issue than even his staunches Republican critics. On one hand, fringe zealots like Rush Limbaugh and their right-wing brethren in Congress cringe at the idea of expanding government powers, but nonetheless clamor for a federal law that extends well into people’s private lives by banning same-sex marriages.

Obama reaffirmed his position on the issue just days before last month’s election.

“Historically, marriages have been defined at the state level,” he told MTV on Oct. 26 in response to an edgy question that asserted he’d staked out a “states’ rights” position on the issue. “Ultimately, you know, I believe that if we have that conversation at the state level, the evolution that’s taking place in this country will get us to a place where we are going to be recognizing everybody fairly.”

But the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday may have forced Obama’s hand quicker than he might have liked.

“There will be pressure for the Justice Department to weigh in on the Prop. 8 case,” Richard Socarides, a longtime gay rights activist and White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Politico.

Socarides said that when Obama “evolved” in the direction of support for gay marriage earlier this year, he and his aides seemed eager to let some time pass before confronting the question of whether it was a right every American should be guaranteed.

“I think this federalizes the issue much more quickly than the White House would have liked and may force them to take a position earlier than they would have liked,” Socarides said.

In the justices’ order Friday, they did not ask the administration to offer views on the Prop. 8 case. However, court watchers believe several of the justices could put the question of whether there is a federal right to gay-marriage directly to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

That’s even more likely if the DOMA case, in which the administration will be arguing, is heard by the court at about the same time as the California gay-marriage ban. The cases are expected to be scheduled for late March, though no dates have been announced.

“Given the stand that the president of the United States and the attorney general of the United States have made with respect to marriage equality, we would certainly hope that they would participate,” said Ted Olson, the solicitor general under President George W. Bush and the lawyer most likely to argue the pro-gay-marriage side when the justices hear the Prop. 8 case, during a conference call with reporters.

“I’m quite confident that if they did participate, they would support our position in this case, that the denial of equal rights is subject to close scrutiny by the courts and cannot withstand that scrutiny.”

Prop. 8 proponents didn’t echo the call for the Obama administration to weigh in, but did say that the only position it could take consistent with the president’s public statements would be to affirm the state of California’s right to ban gay marriage.

“President Obama has been clear that the states have the right to retain the traditional definition of marriage,” attorney Andrew Pugno told POLITICO via e-mail. “The Department of Justice should adhere to the president’s views.”

NAACP Report Urges Education Reform

E-mail Print PDF

By Damon C. Williams
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

The NAACP, in confronting the myriad debilitating issues facing public education nationwide, has released a report that contained four core areas in which the education sector should concentrate its efforts.

Those four areas are pre-kindergarten preparation, increased effective teaching, longer school days and school years and, finally, targeted education spending, where the proceeds from smart investments would go to the neediest students.

NAACP leadership and members of the greater education community publicized the report during a press conference and call-in on Thursday.

“This report is a resource and roadmap for grassroots activists who want education reform in their community; our status as world leader in education is slipping,” said NAACP Education Director Beth Glenn, noting that America has steadily slid down the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s list, in regard to math, reading and science. “We want to improve the education system. If the United States is to remain competitive in the global marketplace, we must have a strong and innovative workforce. To attain that workforce, we need to educate students at a higher level than in the past.”

The NAACP further explained the four-pronged approach in the report. The first element, “Prekindergarten Prep for Achievement,” suggests that higher quality, universal prekindergarten programs that better prepare students for school; the second, “Effective Teaching,” seeks to better prepare teachers and make ensures that only the most qualified teachers lead classrooms.

“More Time, More Learning,” points to both a longer school day and an extended school year, while “Targeted Spending for Widespread Success” points to the better usage of the limited resources schools and school district have.

“If America is going to lead the world in this century the way we did the last, we must lead the world again in education,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “’Finding our Way Back To First’ is the road map for our activists, the communities they serve, and the nation as a whole. Our proposition is simple: if every public school does what the best schools do, every child will be able to get a great education. The NAACP has pushed America toward greatness before, and with this plan as our guide our army of advocates will do it again.”

United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed the department’s longstanding relationship with the civil rights organization, and said it is is now beyond the time to act for the sake of children in the public school system.

“We need to approach this with a tremendous sense of urgency. While there are many individual success stories, we really have a crisis on our hands,” Duncan said, adding that the NAACP can play a unique role in advocacy. “A 25 percent drop-rate means a million students leave school for the streets every year, and in the African-American and Latino communities, the rate is 50, 60 percent. It devastates entire communities.

“Folks aren’t going to agree on everything, but our common enemy is academic failure,” Duncan continued. “We have to do this with a sense of urgency, and I am looking forward to a continued partnership with the NAACP.”

Page 163 of 371

BVN National News Wire