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Sharpton: Obama Gets Bad Rap on Black Jobs

Al Sharpton
WASHINGTON (TEWire) 1/2011 – A 20-something year old man stands in the floor of McDonald’s in Silver Spring, Md., with his hands in his pockets. His conversation with an older man could be heard around the restaurant.

“I just want a job. I can’t find no job nowhere, man. I’m tired of living off my parents, my friends and other people.”

Only a few miles away in North West Washington, D.C., another Black man boards an elevator; excited about 2011. Joyfully speaking of his New Year’s Day, he says to another passenger, “My New Year’s was great. I woke up with a job to go to!”

Black male employment conversations are happening around the nation. From door to door, neighborhood to neighborhood Black men are either disgusted or delighted over their employment status.

“We are over 50 percent unemployment among Black males in Detroit, in New York, in Atlanta,” says the Rev. Al Sharpton in an interview with Trice Edney News Wire. “People come into our offices every day asking about jobs. They don’t care about the intellectual debate. They want to know where the relief is coming from.”

Despite the disparity between the White and Black employment rates, Sharpton says those who criticize the president for avoiding speaking specifically about the glaring racial element of unemployment are giving Obama a bad rap.

“I’ve been very verbal about it,” says Sharpton. “I think a lot of the criticism has been disingenuous because a lot of them have said things about President Obama that they didn’t say about Clinton. I think Clinton; not only didn’t do a lot of things that we wanted him to do, he did things against us. I agree with some of the points, I just think some of the motives are less than genuine.”

During the Clinton years, 1993-2000, unemployment was half the rate that it is now across the board, Sharpton stressed, “The proportion or percentage of unemployment between Blacks and Whites was the same or worse under Clinton.”

Actually, the gap comparison remained about the same, but never got worse, according to a quick look at records of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the end of Clinton's first two years, the statistics were 4.2 percent unemployment for White males and 8.3 percent for Black males. At the end of his term in 2000, the rate was 3.0 percent for White males and 7.1 percent for Black males. This is about the same as the current race gap, which - for Black males - has been consistently twice the average rate of White males. The current rate for White males is 8.5 percent while the Black male rate is 16.5 percent.

Meanwhile, as other civil rights leaders around the country, including the National Urban League’s Marc Morial, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the Congressional Black Caucus’ Emanuel Cleaver have all placed Black unemployment squarely on the front burner, Sharpton says it doesn’t matter whether the White House deals with it from a standpoint of race.

“I think where I differ from some is I want to see the result whether it’s done by geography, whether it’s done by region, whether it’s done by race. I think a lot of them are caught up on the semantics of we want them to say it our way. I want them to do it our way,” says Sharpton. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do it [based on race], I’m just saying that if the White House or the Congress doesn’t want to do it on race, but wants to do it on region or geography and we get to the same result, I’m fine with

that. As long as we address the problem that alleviates the massive problem of unemployment, I don’t want to argue about the language, I want to argue about people are suffering. It’s real.”

Among the top civil rights leaders, Sharpton has clearly been most involved with the Obama White House, several times a guest of the president in the Oval office. He says he will continue to use his influence to stress the specific needs in Black communities this year, but he will not make the topic of race a deal-breaker.

He concludes: “People don’t have time to argue about language or strategy. They need jobs.”

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