by Fred Lucas
President Barack Obama will be speaking this week for the last time during his presidency to annual dinners for black and Hispanic members of Congress, even as his record for the two largest minority groups in the country is at best questionable, based on government numbers.
A Census Bureau report this week found wages have climbed back to pre-recession levels in 2015, including for blacks and Hispanics.
However, throughout Obama’s two terms, the highest unemployment rates continue to be among African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The president’s policies haven’t helped either group, said Horace Cooper, co-chairman of Project 21, a black conservative group.
“The black community has suffered tremendously under the president’s policies,” Cooper told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“The president seems to be so proud that wages are back, but that just means the misery has endured until his last year in office,” Cooper added. “He has turned the Great Recession that should have been two to three years into five to seven years. We haven’t had full job growth for almost eight years.”
The president, not surprisingly, had a different perspective, touting the Census numbers in a White House video Tuesday. Obama said:
Incomes actually went up 5.2 percent. This is actually the biggest jump year over year since 1968. The good news is, it went up for everybody, all income groups, except those at the very, very top, all races, genders … It paints a picture of an economy that is improving, that is reducing poverty and increasing incomes. This is all a consequence of some of the smart economic policies we’ve been putting in place over the last several years.
The White House noted that Hispanics saw the largest gain in median income at 6.1 percent, while seeing a 2.2 percent drop in poverty. Further, blacks had a 2.1 percent drop in poverty.
However, the recovery has been too weak to celebrate, said James Sherk, a research fellow for labor economics at The Heritage Foundation.
“This has been the slowest recovery of the post-war era,” Sherk told The Daily Signal. “All racial groups suffered losses in the downturn that are only now being recovered.”
On Thursday, Obama is speaking to the 39th Annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Conference and Annual Awards Gala. Then, on Saturday, he will speak at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 46th Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner. Both events are in Washington.
Based on the new Census report, the estimated median income for blacks in 2015 was $37,211. That’s up from the previous year, when it was $35,694. But it’s only nominally higher than when Obama came into office at $36,179. The year before Obama ran, the estimated median income for blacks was $37,809. Pre-recession, 2007, the median income for black Americans was $38,970.
However, the wages picture is better for Hispanics, whose estimated median income for 2015 was $45,148, up about $2,600 from the previous year. It marks the only significant increase for Hispanics during Obama’s tenure. In 2009, the median income was $42,022, then leveled to $40,000 or $41,000 until a slight increase in 2014. In 2007, before the recession, the median income was $44,215.
However, a year-to-year comparison could lack precision based on a redesigned survey from the Census Bureau in 2014, which is intended to capture more income than the old survey.
The employment situation for the two demographics is more cloudy, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. African-Americans are hit hard on both fronts. Hispanics have one of the highest labor force participation rates of any demographic, but also lag in employment.
Labor force participation has actually declined slightly for both groups, going from 63 percent in 2008 to 61 percent for blacks during most of Obama’s time in office. Hispanics had a 68 percent workforce participation rate in 2008, but after 2010 fell to 66 percent and remained there.
Pre-recession, the unemployment rates were 8.3 percent for blacks and 5.6 percent for Hispanics in 2007. This climbed in 2008 during when the recession hit. During Obama’s first year in office, according to the statistics bureau, blacks had an unemployment rate of 14.8 percent. Hispanics had a 12.1 percent unemployment rate. They remained mostly steady the next two years.
By 2012, the unemployment rate dropped for both groups, but was still much higher than the national average. It dropped slightly during the first year of Obama’s second term. However, in 2014, overall unemployment had decreased to 6.2 percent, but actually increased to 11.3 percent for blacks. Hispanics, that year, were on a par with the national average.
Obama and progressives in general would prefer to identify various voting blocs instead of boosting economic advancement, said Michael Gonzalez, a senior fellow in foreign policy for The Heritage Foundation and author of “Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.”
“My main beef with progressives is blocs rather than individuals,” Gonzalez told The Daily Signal. “They want to drive a narrative that you have no power to change things and must depend on the government for help. We shouldn’t look at Hispanics as a group, that’s their mistake.”
Cooper, of Project 21, said that African-Americans did fare better during the Ronald Reagan years, and even during the 1990s with Bill Clinton, along with every other demographic, before Obamacare, the stimulus spending, and other regulation crowded out the private sector.
“There was an increase in black Americans owning homes, in high school graduations, and attending college,” Cooper said. “Today, it’s harder for entrepreneurs. If not for the digital economy, all opportunities might be eliminated. Barriers for entry into the economy are artificially higher because of the federal government.”