At 1 year old, President Obama’s signature cure for the ailing economy has not yet gained even footing—especially within communities of color, advocates say. However, contrary to mostly Republican criticisms, the $800 billion stimulus has had some positive impact.
“It’s working pretty much exactly as advertized,” said Josh Bivens, an economist with the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.
According to a report released this week by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which assessed the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA increased employment by 1 million to 2.1 million and boosted the economy by 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent more than it would have been without the recovery package. In the months before the stimulus, the economy was shedding about 700,000 jobs a month. But, in January 2010 those numbers dwindled to 20,000.
Even in the face of such reports, Republican leaders in Washington continue to carp about the program’s alleged ineffectualness.
“Today marks the one-year anniversary of this failed stimulus package, something the president still claims as one of his signature achievements and which he proclaimed would ‘create or save’ 3.5 million jobs and keep unemployment below 8 percent,” wrote Republican Party leader Michael Steele in a Feb. 17 statement. “Since those early heady days of the Obama administration the American people have seen behind the curtain of rhetoric and watched as millions of jobs were lost and unemployment rose into the double digits.”
Steele’s position reflects the GOP’s seemingly implacable decision to oppose the president’s policies.
“The stance of the Republicans in Congress was to be opposed to this. And once they’re gone on record as being opposed to this they can’t turn around and say this is working pretty well,” said Bivens. And that campaign—which has also incorrectly melded the Bush administration’s bank bailouts with the stimulus—has played upon the disillusions of an already soured public, skewing perceptions of the program, he added.
“I am a little dismayed by how generally apathetic the wider public is about the Recovery Act. To an extent, I understand why because we’re still losing jobs. But you can argue that we’d be losing many more jobs if we didn’t pass the recovery package; it’s made the recession less brutal,” the economist said.
That’s also true within Black and Brown communities, where jobless rates have risen to 50 percent and above within, for example, Native American enclaves and urban neighborhoods. However, neither have things improved.
“In this economy, everybody’s hurting. But people of color are hurting more and recovering less,” said John Powell, executive director of Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
Powell was one of several community advocates who spoke at a teleconference announcing the release of a report, “ARRA and the Economic Crisis: One Year Later,” which concluded among other things that the stimulus did not go far enough in bolstering employment in marginalized communities and was not transparent in regard to racial equity.
For example, the report stated, while the national jobless rates fell in January from 10 percent to 9.7 percent, among Blacks it actually increased from 16.2 percent to 16.5 percent.
Part of the problem is that in promising emerging industries such as the “green economy,” ARRA funds have been concentrated on training rather than job creation, said
Dominique Apollon, research director of the Applied Research Center.
“And the training programs have not been coordinated to link with actual jobs,” he added, then said, “If we focus on just training rather than job creation we feed into the myth that people of color lack the skills, that it’s their own fault as opposed to an actual epidemic lack of access to jobs.”
Many of the contributors agreed, too, that the administration’s unwillingness to take a tailored, more targeted approach to economic recovery—in favor of a “lift-all-boats” approach—was also hampering growth within communities of color.
Powell said the president’s race has been a major factor in that decision to not tackle head on the disparities in employment, education, housing and other social barometers.
“The mistake people make is that because we have an African American in the White House the race issue is off the table,” but it’s not, he said. The “race” problem, though, lies less with the administration and more with the public’s reaction to any perceived racial bias from the president, Powell added.
“We’re not asking for something just for Latino or Black or Native American community, we’re saying recognize that every community is situated differently,” he said. “ if the public understands that dealing with these issues fairly does not make them a Black issue or a Latino issue, it makes them an American issue.”
Even with the racial overtones and the threat of possible public fallout, President Obama and his administration still owe the nation’s most fragile communities—many of which just happen to be of color—equitable access to the potential healing pool of the Recovery Act, advocates concluded.
“There is a little bit of a failure of bold leadership,” criticized Juhu Thukral, director of law and advocacy of The Opportunity Agenda. “They’re very concerned with accountability but they’re not necessarily making the link that accountability is critical relative to greater and more equal opportunity.
“They’re looking for ways to make the ways in which these funds are being spent transparent, and that it’s going to make an impact but they’re not always taking that extra step to ensure they’re including opportunities for all Americans as part of their equation.”