Is the Black American electorate making the best use of party politic strategy to get what they need? Probably not, especially since so many African Americans vote for only one party. Black voters along with many progressives in general have given the Clinton Administration a lot of praise for presiding over a number of years of growth and for ending with a budget surplus. You won’t hear Black voters give former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich any credit for that budget surplus or give Republicans any credit for implementing the fiscal policies that may have spurred, or at the least, not impeded economic growth during the boom-boom 1990s.
Not only might it be time to share some of the political love with the GOP, but permanently turn the GOP-Clinton collaboration on the budget into a platform for voting. The Clinton years showed that the economy and Black employment could do well under a split government.
During the 103rd Congress, Democrats controlled the Senate, House of Representatives, and the White House. The gross domestic product grew by approximately seven percent during that period, and the labor force participation rate for Black Americans was approximately 63.7% at the end of the Congress. The unemployment rate at the end of the Congress was approximately 10.2% for African Americans.
Republicans were able to persuade Americans that its Contract with America was the covenant that could best guide the country during the 104th Congress. Republicans took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and forced the Clinton White House to implement its triangulation approach to governing. The split government did not harm the overall economy, nor did it harm Black voters. Although GDP growth during the 104th Congress slowed down to 6.3%, unemployment for Black Americans fell to 10.0% by the end of the 104th Congress while the labor participation rate increased to 65%.
Black Americans continued to fare better under the 105th Congress, even though the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the House of Representatives. GDP grew 9.0% during the years of the 105th Congress. At the end of 1999, Black unemployment was approximately 7.8% and the labor participation rate was approximately 65.7%. Unemployment was in the single digits and Black Americans were expressing confidence in the economy.
By the time the 106th Congress took their seats in January 1999, most Americans were not aware of the economic storm clouds on the horizon. The Internet bubble would burst in the middle of this Congress, and although GDP grew during the 106th Congress at a rate of 9.2%, Black Americans would see their labor participation rate fall to 65.2% while their unemployment rate climbed to 10.1%.
The 107th Congress saw the Republican Party score big, keeping control not only of both chambers of Congress, but winning the White House as well. Unfortunately for the GOP, the recession had started in March 2000 and it would have to govern during a downturn. GDP grew at a rate of 2.9% over the two year period. Unemployment for Black Americans still hovered around 10.1% by the end of the 107th Congress while participation in the labor force fell to 63.3%.
What the 107th Congress also gave us was the Bush tax cuts. Arguably there impact was felt during the 108th and 109th Congresses. Again, Republicans controlled the Congress and the White House during both Congresses. During the 108th Congress, the economy grew 6.1% and unemployment for Black Americans fell to 9.2% while the labor participation rate was at 63.6%. The 109th Congress saw a slight decrease in the economy’s growth rate with GDP advancing 5.8%. Black American unemployment was at 9.0% while labor force participation barely changed from the last Congress, holding at 63.4%
All good streaks come to an end. Unfortunately for the country and the Republicans, both the financial markets and the overall economy suffered downturns. The financial markets (due in part to lending to consumers who did not have the capacity to borrow; and bank balance sheets containing contracts with underlying poor fundamentals) would see commerce slow down as institutions stopped lending to each other. Private investment also continued to fall during the latter part of the Bush Administration and the 110th Congress which slowed down growth in GDP.
The timing could not have been worse for the Democrats either. Although the Democrats would win control of the House and the Senate in the 110th Congress and control both chambers through the 111th while successfully installing a Democratic president in 2009, Black Americans would start to feel the repercussions of the 2007 recession.
During the 110th Congress, GDP grew a paltry 1.6% while unemployment for Black Americans rose to 16.2% and the labor participation rate fell to 61.9%. The reign of the 111th Congress would fare no better even after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Dodd Frank Act, and the Affordable Care Act. GDP grew at a negative rate (-.6%) and the unemployment rate for Black Americans came in at 15.8 by the end of the 111th Congress. Labor force participation held steady at 61.8%
If the premise is one party performs better than the other when it comes to the economy – and if we control for other factors such as global impact on the American economy and the dearth of private sector spending – at a minimum a Republican controlled Congress along with a president from either party would be best for the economy and specifically the African American political economy.
Would Black Americans overtly pursue a strategy of splitting the vote? At this time, no. Traditional leadership within the Black community strongly favors the Democratic Party and will continue to encourage their constituents to vote that way. It will take continued close examination of the performance of both parties on the economy and acceptance that the Democratic Party is just as liable to perform poorly before the Black American community considers brokering its vote.