EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published by the National Newspapers Publishers Association.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Barack Obama expressed admiration for the balanced picture African-American newspapers present of the black community each week, saying such portrayal not only helps blacks but Americans of all races and ethnicities.
“One of the things that I always love about African-American publications is that it’s not just gloom and doom,” the president told members of National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) last Thursday at a private gathering at the White House. “Part of what you guys do is you lift up that kid who’s overcome barriers and is now succeeding, or that family that has pulled together and helped to strengthen a community, or that church that is the bedrock of a neighborhood.
“Those stories of success and hope, that’s what sustains us, that’s what has driven us, that’s what has given people a sense that no matter how tough things get sometimes, there’s always a better day ahead. And you’re part of telling that story. So I very much appreciate you.”
President Obama spoke to publishers who were in the nation’s capital to celebrate NNPA’s annual Black Press Week. In a 10-minute speech, the president gave the publishers a preview of the case he will be making to voters as part of his campaign to get re-elected.
“Now we’ve obviously gone through three challenging years but, whereas we were losing about 800,000 jobs per month, the month that I took office, we’ve now seen job growth over 23 consecutive months, almost 4 million jobs created, jobs in the manufacturing sector for the first time since the 1990s.
“We have seen consecutive quarter after quarter after quarter of economic growth and so we’re starting to turn the corner and make progress. But all of you know that too many people, where folks are still struggling that were struggling before this recession and they’re struggling now even more. Folks who can’t find a job, if they have a job, they’re underemployed or not making a living wage.”
A recent report by the Department of Labor titled, “The African-American Labor Force in the Recovery,” noted: “Aggregate numbers show that the African-American community as a whole has exhibited poorer labor market outcomes than other races even prior to the recession and during the recovery, demonstrating that they often face different and greater challenges.”
Overall unemployment stood at 8.3 percent in February. For Whites, it was 7.3 percent, compared to 10.7 percent for Latinos. Black unemployment under Obama peaked at 14.9 percent in June 2009, at the end of the recession, before settling at 15.8 percent last December. It dipped to 13.6 percent in January before rising to 14.1 percent in February.
White unemployment, which has been half the rate of Blacks for the past 40 years, peaked at 8.7 percent in June 2009. It fell to 7.4 percent in January and to 7.3 in February.
In his speech, President Obama tried to show that he is aware of the sharp racial disparities.
“African-American communities and Latino communities were disproportionately affected by subprime lending, so a lot of people have lost their homes,” he said. “And so everything that we’ve been doing over the last three years is designed to grow the economy overall, put more people back to work across the board. But also to figure out how we create those foundation stones for helping people get into the middle class and stay in the middle class. What’s required to create the sense of security and possibility and opportunity that a lot of people have felt slipping away for decades now. And in some ways, some of the trend lines that have happened across the country happened in the African American community first.”
To help lower the unemployment rate, Obama said he has directed federal departments and agencies to streamline systems in place to match the unemployed with jobs. He said he has asked them to place particular emphasis on the long-term unemployed.
Black youth unemployment is extremely high.
“In many of the communities that all of you all represent, we’ve got youth unemployment at 50, 60 percent so one of the things that we’ve discussed is that we’ve urged, as a part of my jobs plan that congress pass a robust summer jobs program so they can put young people to work but we’re not waiting for Congress,” President Obama stated. “What we’ve decided to do is we’re just going to go ahead and pull together employers and not for profits and colleges, universities, any institutions that are out there all across the country and get pledges and commitments and organize ourselves a summer jobs initiative. Our goal is to get to 250,000 young people that are gonna have opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, you name it. And I think we’re already at 180,000 so we’re making progress.”
He said he realizes publishers are small business owners and as such need more support from the federal government.
“All of you are news people, and that’s the reason we brought you here [to the White House] but you’re also business people and entrepreneurs, and that’s always been the history of African- American publishing,” President Obama said. Publishers laughed when he said, “You don’t start off with a big bank roll, most of you, right?”
When the laughter subsided, he continued, “You don’t have a trust fund that helps you set up that newspaper. You guys are out there hustling, scrapping, and so our initiative on the small business side, to provide tax breaks and tax cuts to the small businesses to help them grow, to make sure that the SBA is responsive, to make sure that the federal government in terms of its procurement policies, and that includes notices and things like that, that is reaching out extensively to make sure that everybody has opportunities to go after that business. Financing, technical assistance, you name it.”
President Obama spoke to Black publishers the day before the 185th anniversary of the founding of Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first Black newspaper established by John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish.
The NNPA has its roots in a 1941 meeting of major Black newspapers organized by John Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender. Representatives from 22 newspapers attended that organizing meeting. The organization was initially known as the National Negro Publishers Association. It was renamed the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 1956.
“Over the years you’ve gone from 22 African-American publications to more than 200 newspapers across the country and in so many cities and towns you’ve got readers that depend on you to report on some of the stories that never get told by anybody else,” President Obama said.
“But also to be able to give people a sense of how the stories that everybody reports on impacts the African-American community in particular. And that obviously is a critical role. And that’s not just important to the African-American community, that’s important to the American community because it’s my belief that when everybody’s engaged, when everybody’s involved, they’re going to make better decisions and ultimately we end up having better governance.”