As he struggles to craft a jobs bill that can win support of Republicans and Democrats, President Obama met today with a group of black leaders who want him to focus on a particular concern: Combattng an unemployment epidemic whose burden has fallen disproportionately on African Americans.
Braving a deluge of snow that shut down most other business at the White House for the day, activists supportive of the president's economic policies in the recent past lobbied for a new approach more tightly focused on the needs of chronically depressed communities.
Although the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined in January for whites and Hispanics, it increased by three-tenths of a percentage point for blacks. Despite that disparity, opinion polls still show soaring approval ratings for Obama among black voters.
Still, the mood is shifting a bit, as some black leaders begin to voice dissatisfaction with the administration's efforts to turn things around. Those assembled at the White House invitation on Wednesday have spoken up in Obama's defense against nascent criticism from the community.
But the problem needs special attention, they said.
In addition to the Rev. Al Sharpton, Obama invited leaders of the National Urban League, the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women to meet with him and top advisor Valerie Jarrett.
"We're not looking for race-based programs but, like the president, we want to make sure that everyone is included," Sharpton said. "We need to make sure that those efforts to spur job creation are equally and fairly distributed so that, when the rubber meets the road, we're all in the car.''
The meeting came as polls indicate Obama remains extremely popular among African Americans, but that his economic policies are not helping them as much as the rest of the nation.
In the latest monthly report lauded by Obama as a harbinger of economic recovery, the overall unemployment rate dropped just below 10 percent, but joblessness among blacks increased to more than 15 percent.
Meanwhile, the cornerstone of the recovery bill that Obama supports -- tax credits to spur job creation could prove to be of little use in black communities that are struggling with chronic unemployment.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she was glad to see Obama convened a meeting to confront the disparity in white and black economic fortunes.
``That was the perspective which people going into the meeting had,'' she said. ``It was to look at the gap, the disparity, and to talk how to include a job creation strategy that includes everyone, including areas of chronic unemployment.''
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