WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and three prominent African-American leaders grappled Wednesday with how to improve economic opportunities for blacks, whose joblessness looms well above the national average and is nearly twice that of whites.
On a day of treacherous weather in Washington, Obama kept his scheduled meeting with Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, could not make it to the White House because of the pounding snow and winds that kept most of the nation’s capital shut down.
The meeting did not yield immediate announcements or initiatives.
Obama and the other leaders focused on targeting aid to regions to help black people and other groups that have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession, Jealous told The Associated Press.
“When you try to focus on how to lift all those boats, what you come back to are places – geographic areas, urban and rural, where assistance should be located,” he said. “That approach can work if Congress lets it work.”
He added: “This is about place. It’s not about race.”
Obama, the nation’s first black president, has consistently held that he cannot adopt employment strategies that are designed to solely help blacks. But he supports targeting help to regions most in need, which in turn, he says, would lift the African-American community.
There is a push among some black advocates for Obama’s administration to target black joblessness with training programs and direct job creation. The unemployment rate for blacks was 16.5 percent in January, compared to 9.7 percent overall and 8.7 percent for whites.
“What’s clear is that we have a president who gets it,” Jealous said. He accused Republican lawmakers and governors of obstructing Obama on initiatives like stimulus spending and a push to overhaul health insurance. Those efforts would help minorities, he said.
The Oval Office meeting ran almost an hour. The next steps will likely be meetings with Cabinet members and leaders of both parties to keep the effort moving, Jealous said.