As he enters his last year as President Pres. Barrack Obama obviously feels the need to explain his approach in office to Black people.  Today, he released a nearly 3,000 word document explaining just what he’s done for his “people.” 

His approach, he says, wasn’t about doing something only for Black people, his goal was to improve the condition of all people and as a result, the condition of Black people as well. 

“Pres. Obama believes that the values that made our economy the strongest in the world include making sure everyone does their fair share, everyone gets a fair shake, and hard work and responsibility are rewarded,” the statement began.  “That’s why President Obama has worked to improve the lives of all Americans, including African-Americans, by providing:

  • economic and educational opportunities,
  • improving health care coverage,
  • working to ensure that the criminal justice system is applied fairly to all citizens, and
  • championing workforce development to ensure we continue to develop and retain the strongest, most productive workforce in the world.”

During his administration, African-Americans have made enormous strides, says Obama.  However, he recognizes there is more work to do, “to rid our country of the long-term disparities that have put the African American community at a disadvantage.”

So now, when folks ask you what has Obama done for Black people, here’s your answer

 Restoring Economic Security to African American Families: Businesses have added over 14 million jobs over 70 straight months of job growth, the longest streak on record. While we still have more to do, this job growth has helped cut the African American unemployment rate in half – from 16.8% in March 2010 to 8.3% in December 2015, its lowest level since September 2007. The African-American unemployment rate has fallen by more than the overall unemployment rate in the past few years, and is further below its pre-recession level than any other racial or ethnic group. 

Permanent Tax Cuts that Promote Work and Reduce Poverty: The President established and recently made permanent significant improvements to tax credits for working families.  The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) were expanded to encourage work and help low-income parents afford the costs of raising a family, together providing about 16 million families a year with a tax cut averaging $900. Because of these improvements, a single parent working full-time, year-round at the federal minimum wage gets an additional CTC of more than $1,700; if the expansion were not in place, that parent would not receive any CTC.

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Making College More Accessible and Affordable: The President signed legislation increasing the maximum Pell Grant by more than $1,000 and total Pell Grant funding by 70%, helping millions of low- and moderate-income students afford college every year. He’s also taken steps to reduce student loan burdens, including ending student loan subsidies for private banks and shifting the savings back to students, reducing student loan interest rates to historic lows, and capping student loan payments at 10% of income for all students. The President also established and made permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a tax cut of up to $10,000 over four years for nearly 10 million working and middle-class families a year paying for college.

 Getting more Americans into Better, Higher Paying Jobs: Last July, the Administration released a plan for job-training and employment programs to be more responsive to the needs of employers in order to effectively place ready-to-work Americans in jobs that are available now or train them in the skills needed for better jobs. Since then the government has awarded over 15 competitive job-training grants that total over $1.2 billion.  Some of the biggest competitive grant program are targeted towards expanding proven, job-driven strategies, including $175 million into expanding apprenticeship programs.  To go along with the apprenticeship program, the Department of Labor has also proposed a rule to increase equal employment opportunity in apprenticeship programs for traditionally under-represented groups.

Helping the Long-Term Unemployed Get Back to Work: The Administration has taken steps to help more of the long-term unemployed get back to work, around one-quarter of whom are African-American. The Department of Labor awarded nearly $170 million in “Ready to Work Partnership” grants to support the best models for partnerships between employers, non-profits, and the job training system to help train and connect the long-term unemployed to work.

 Rebuilding Transportation Infrastructure, Rejuvenating the American Workforce:  In December, President Obama signed the long-term transportation bill, the first passed by Congress in 10 years.   Transportation accounts for 11 million jobs, and transportation-related employment accounted for about 8.7% of civilian workers in the United States. In 2008, African Americans comprised only 6% of the industry, and women comprised only 3%. Every $1 billion invested in infrastructure supports more than 10,000 jobs and that is why this administration launched the new one-year pilot program, Local Hire. As a result, Federal Highway Administration’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) Program requires State DOTs to make full use of apprenticeship and training programs targeted to develop the skills of women, minorities, and disadvantaged individuals to ensure that a competent workforce is available to meet highway construction hiring needs. 

Smart Transportation Planning Creates Opportunity: The working poor spent nearly 10% of their income just commuting to work, more than twice the 4% average for the total population. Transit users in cities with robust transit systems can save up to $10,230 per year by taking transit rather than owning a vehicle. Transportation infrastructure can revitalize communities, create pathways to work, and connect hardworking Americans to a better quality of life. This is evident in seven cities across America participating in this Administration’s Ladders of Opportunity Transportation Empowerment Pilot. Leadership in Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Richmond are receiving technical assistance to ensure that improving their local infrastructure also translates to economic growth that doesn’t leave anyone behind.   

 Helping Americans Keep Their Homes: African American families have been particularly hard-hit by the housing crisis. The President has taken action to help homeowners, including expanding access to refinancing – allowing responsible borrowers to save an average of $3,000 per year. The Administration has also taken measures to allow homeowners behind on their payments to modify their mortgages to avoid foreclosure – with more than 1.5 million borrowers having received permanent modifications through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the Administration’s cornerstone foreclosure prevention program, and millions more receiving private modifications that were modeled off of HAMP.

Making Owning a Home More Affordable by Cutting Mortgage Premiums. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has long been an important source of financing for African-American families seeking to buy their first home. In recent years, nearly half of African American home buyers used FHA to get a mortgage. Recently, the President announced a major new step to make buying a home more affordable and accessible for creditworthy families. The FHA reduced its annual mortgage insurance premiums by half a percentage point. For the typical homebuyer, this reduction translates into a $900 reduction in their annual mortgage payment. Existing homeowners who refinance into an FHA mortgage will see similar reductions to their mortgage payments as well.  Following the reduction in 2015 the number of African American borrowers (new purchase or refinance) with an FHA loan increased by nearly 50%

Creating a Simple, Safe and Affordable Starter Retirement Savings Product: Social Security is and must remain a rock-solid, guaranteed progressive benefit that every American can rely on, but too many Americans reach their golden years without any personal savings or pension whatsoever. According to the Urban Institute, the risk of an insecure retirement is especially high for minorities: white households have six times the wealth, including retirement savings, of African Americans or Hispanics. To make it easier for families to save for retirement, Treasury recently announced the national launch of myRA, a new starter retirement account designed for individuals who don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement program. According to a Federal Reserve report, 42% percent of workers don’t have access to a retirement plan through their jobs. myRA is designed to help bridge this gap, and help workers get on the path to long-term savings. 

These programs although nice benefit only employees of federal contractors, so Obama only get’s partial credit on the following two. 

Expanding Access to Paid Leave: last September, the President signed an Executive Order requiring federal contractors (only) to offer their employees up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.  An estimated 44 million private sector workers – about 40% of the total private-sector workforce – do not have access to paid sick leave, and low- and middle-income workers are much less likely to have it than high-income workers.  As a result, too many working Americans cannot afford to stay home if they are ill or to take care of a sick child if it means the loss of pay.  The President has called on Congress to pass legislation expanding paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to millions more workers.

Increasing Wages for Working Families: The President has called on Congress to increase the Federal minimum wage, he issued an Executive Order, setting the minimum wage at $10.10 an hours starting his year, for employees of Federal contractors.  Obama has called on congress to raise the Federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020. 

According to researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, this Act would lead to a raise for 45% of all single, working African-American mothers. Overall, increasing the minimum wage as proposed would increase wages for an estimated 35 million workers.  Since Obama call for an increase in the minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union address, 17 states and the District of Columbia have answered his call. That means that today, a total 29 states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage.

A few more of his “what I’ve done for Black people claims” were a little far reaching: 

Protecting Families from Financial Abuses, Hidden Fees, and Deceptive Practices: To prevent mortgage companies, credit card lenders, and payday loan companies from exploiting consumers with hidden fees and other deceptive practices, President Obama fought to pass the most far reaching Wall Street reform in history which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  It’s hard to see much the CFPB has done for Black folks, and they have still failed to act on recommendations to revise payday loan policies across the country. 

Providing access to broadband for families in low-income housing. This move benefited 200,000 children in low-income households living in public housing.  Good for them, but not for the masses. 

Expanding Overtime Protections: In June, the President announced that the Department of Labor (DOL) would propose extending overtime pay protections to almost 5 million workers.  This one is just a proposal and not passed yet.  If passed as proposed, most salaried workers earning less than a projected $50,400 would be able to take advantage of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime protections. 

 There were a few other achievements, mostly dealing with entrepreneurship, but  you get the drift.  So now, the facts have been checked and mail this to your relative who says the President hasn’t done anything for Black people.  Or, if you weren’t impressed with the list, do the same thing with a note, “Is that it,” and see what kind of response you receive.”.  

The proposed rule would prevent a future erosion of overtime rights and ensure greater predictability by automatically updating the salary threshold in the future. It would help promote higher take-home pay and allow workers to better balance their work and family obligations.  In so doing, it would help shore up the middle class and provide an easier pathway for those aspiring to share in the standard of living it affords.

– This information came from a 2016 White House press release

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