On the heels of President Barack Obama’s speech to announce the $450 billion American Jobs Act, the White House gave specifics Friday on how the legislation would benefit African Americans, who have an unemployment rate of 16.7 percent.
The roundtable with reporters included Danielle Gray, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, Marie Johns, deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Ronald Kirk, U.S. trade representative and former mayor of Dallas, Texas.
According to Gray, projections from independent forecasters indicate the American Jobs Act would provide 1.9 million jobs next year.
Gray outlined the four main proposals of the act, which include substantial tax relief for small businesses, primarily by slicing in half their payroll taxes; modernizing and rebuilding America through infrastructure investment (nearly a quarter of the act’s funds would go toward that effort); “an aggressive strategy” to tackle long-term unemployment; and tax relief to workers, achieved in part by extending payroll tax cuts to them.
Other specific provisions of the Act — many which were touted as bipartisan — include extending unemployment insurance benefits; providing $2 billion in subsidizing employment opportunities modeled after the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund; a $35 billion investment to curb layoffs of teachers, firefighters and cops; providing easier access to capital for small businesses and reducing regulatory impositions on these businesses; investing in school infrastructure; providing a tax incentive for employers who hire veterans; and barring discrimination of the unemployed.
The White House believes the American Jobs Act will help African Americans in a number of ways:
- An estimated 1.4 million unemployed blacks will benefit from extended unemployment insurance, which would continue into 2012.
- About 20 million black workers will benefit from the extension and expansion of payroll tax cuts.
- More than 100,000 African American-owned small businesses will benefit from the plan’s reducing employer payroll taxes in half, providing business owners with an added bonus for hiring new employees and extending provisions that provide an incentive for investment.
Kirk said President Obama also believed that a “thoughtful balanced approach to trade is a great way to help us grow our economy,” and said that some of the trade proposals on the table would ensure that trade adjustment assistance was available as a safety net for small businesses.
Johns said President Obama’s plan to help small businesses through the American Jobs Act followed previous legislative measures that have helped small businesses.
According to Johns, the administration’s Recovery Act and Small Businesses Jobs Act enabled the Small Business Administration to put $42 billion in capital in the hands of small businesses.
She acknowledged that economic recovery was “uneven” among African Americans as compared to others but stressed that now was an opportune time to start a small business. She said African American entrepreneurs needed to learn more about resources the SBA provides.
The Obama administration representatives also maintained that the president was in tune to the plight of unemployed African Americans.
“I think the president believes this is a serious problem and the onus is on us to do everything we can to tackle this,” said Gray.
Asked why the president did not mention high minority unemployment in his jobs speech Thursday, Kirk said the president was sympathetic to the plight of minorities but took care to avoid polarization. Kirk maintained that it was his belief that ”substantively our people are sophisticated enough to understand the way the president expressed what he did.”
Kirk emphasized that President Obama’s jobs plan “is one part of his strategy.” The president understands there are “no silver bullets,” Kirk said, but “this is what we can do right now to help address an immediate short term need.”
The trade ambassador also said he believed the president was aware that “we need long term education, infrastructure, in innovation … because that’s where America wins in the global marketplace.”