Job talks between Obama, black leaders focused on region, not race

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 10, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met with three prominent African-American leaders Wednesday on how to improve economic and employment opportunities for all Americans — not just minorities.

The White House meeting yielded no new ideas or initiatives, according to NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, who attended the session with National Urban League President Marc Morial and the Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder of the National Action Network.

Civil rights icon Dorothy Height, who leads the National Council of Negro Women, couldn't make the meeting because of the deep snow and blizzard-like conditions that enveloped the nation's capital on Wednesday.

Jealous told McClatchy that the one-hour meeting centered more on region rather than race, on how to increase the flow of jobs to those geographic areas suffering most because of the sour economy.

"We talked about things that benefit all people," Jealous said after the meeting. "In these times, when everyone is hurting, the focus needs to be and has every right to be on the lifting of all boats. There may come a time when it's clear that something special needs to be done for one group or another. This isn't the time."

A White House official said that Obama and the African-American leaders "addressed the challenges facing economically disadvantaged communities and the variety of efforts to extend support during this economic recovery."

The nation's overall unemployment rate took an unexpected dip to 9.7 percent last month from 10 percent in December. African-American unemployment, however, showed little change at 16.5 percent. The January jobless rate for whites was 8.7 percent.

The administration did see a positive glimmer in January's African-American unemployment figures: The jobless rate for black youths between 16 and 19 dropped to 43.8 percent from 48.4 percent in December.

Some civil rights activists and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have urged Obama to take targeted steps to address African-American unemployment.

The president has repeatedly declined.

"I think the most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again," Obama said in a December interview with USA Today and The Detroit Free Press. "I think it's a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are all going to get out of this together."

(Steven Thomma contributed to this article.)

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