Last week the Department of Labor confirmed that the African American community continues to be among the hardest hit by the economic recessions, with an estimated 16.2 percent of blacks unemployed in June, compared to 8 percent of whites, and 9.2 percent for the overall population. The figures sparked outrage from many in the black community, who demanded that this president do more.
“Can you imagine a situation with any other group of workers… if 34 percent of white women were out there looking for work and couldn’t find it?” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “You would see congressional hearings and community gatherings. There would be rallies and protest marches. There is no way that this would be allowed to stand.”
Despite the outrage from Cleaver and other black leaders who are dismayed at President Obama’s seeming unwillingness to create economic policies that are targeted towards the black community, history shows that these new unemployment rates may not have much of a factor in the way the black community votes in 2012.
After the big swing of black votes to the Democratic Party after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal began being implemented during the Great Depression, African Americans have remained loyal to the Democrat party, whether they’re economically prosperous or impoverished.
David Bositis, a senior researcher at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, believes black voters will stick to the trend. “I doubt it’s going to have much affect on the election.” He says Obama has tried to help the black community through initiatives like the healthcare reform, but is “limited” because of the divided Congress, a fact that the black community understands. “He’s not God. There’s a limit to what he can do while Republicans are in control.”
This spring, as black unemployment rates climbed, Obama’s approval rating among blacks took a hit, declining about seven percent since March to about 85 percent, but still remains overwhelmingly high for the Democrat.
While “it’s the economy, stupid” was a famous war room slogan used by the Clinton Administration to sum up the importance of the economy to the voting public, a 1992 study by professors Susan Welch and Lorn Foster, backs up the idea that the personal economic conditions of blacks don’t necessarily affect voting behaviors. “Among blacks, income does not have a significant relationship with voting, contrary to its relationship to voting in the population as a whole.”*
They found that African Americans are more likely to be concerned with perception of the African American community at large, rather than individual success, meaning that if it seems as if blacks are “making it,” despite factual reality, blacks are more likely to vote for the party that they believe is helping them attain that success.
“Black perceptions of the gains and losses of blacks in general and the nation as a whole were significantly related to vote choice,” they wrote in the study.
And the statistics back them up. Report after report reveals that black America is seriously suffering; yet the black community generally remains optimistic about their future. A Pew Research Center study found that 53 percent of blacks thought that the economy was looking up in 2010-when black unemployment was at its peak.
This may prove why the first black president is not likely to loose his overwhelming black voting block.
Newsweek journalist Ellis Cose, explores the idea of hope in a dismal time for Black America in his new book, The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage.
“The African American community has been harder hit in this recession by the white community, than most other communities have. Part of the reasons that we as a group seem surprisingly optimistic is that we’re taking a long-term view. In the last ten or fifteen years what many African Americans have perceived is a fundamental change in the opportunity structure of society, in a sense that what was not possible at all for past generations of African Americans has suddenly become possible for at least some members of this generation and that’s a huge deal for people. If you came up in this country twenty years ago, one thing that you knew if you knew nothing else, it was that a black person could not become president,” said Cose.
“I think despite the fact that we as African Americans are really catching hell in this current recession, a lot of folks are saying hey, something very fundamental has changed about what it means to be black in America, and that gives people a certain kind of hope.
*(Some of their analysis on mainstream voting is disputed by Nate Silver in this June 2011 New York Times article)