Black Voices Weigh in on the President’s State of the Union Address

“…But tonight, we turn the page. Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our employment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before.  More of our people are insured than ever before.  And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

“Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain…

“America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:  The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”

— President Barack Obama, 2015 State of the Union January 20, 2015

For legions of Obama supporters, these words succinctly capture the President’s sentiments on his leadership of our nation to date.  Despite the fact that far too many Americans are still struggling with unemployment, underemployment, economic insecurity or worse—truth is the economy President Obama inherited in 2009 has sharply improved since he took office in the aftermath of eight years of Republican rule under President George W. Bush.

The day before the President’s Tuesday night address, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported significant support from the American people for the President’s economic accomplishments.  Under the banner headline, “An Improving Economy Gives Obama His Game Back,” the report said, “Americans approve of the president’s job performance by 50-44 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, a remarkable 9-point gain in approval and a 10-point drop in disapproval just since December. It’s his best rating in a year and a half, and matches his previous best one-time advance, after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, in spring 2011.”

For now, as the President takes a well-earned victory lap for turning around an economy after eight years of Republican rule, leading voices within the black community are both applauding the President’s accomplishments, to date, while also raising questions about the legacy he’ll leave behind with respect to improvements in essential quality of life issues for the most vulnerable among us.

Here’s a collection of African American voices whose views are worthy of note.

Legacy… “A confident and relaxed Obama, making it very clear that he is not going to curl up in a corner and concede the next two years to Republicans, outlined his bold vision for the future, a vision that does not abandon his key policy positions.  Though Obama did indeed win both times his name was on the ballot, Democrats suffered major losses in the 2014 mid-term elections.  Consequently, Republicans hold a 247-188 edge in the House.  In the Senate, there are 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents who usually vote with Democrats.  On Tuesday night, President Obama seemed to be setting the stage for 2016 when, in addition to the White House, there will be a major battle for control of the Senate, where 25 Republicans will be up for re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats.”

-George E. Curry, NNPA Editor-in-Chief With ‘No More Campaigns to Run,’ Obama Refuses to Back Down

Ferguson… Contrary to inaccurate, post-speech analysis, President Obama did mention the incident in Ferguson albeit his words were brief and came near the end of his speech.  On this subject the President said, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York but, surely, we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.  Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”  Despite the President’s unifying sentiment, many African Americans and others flocked to social media to decry what they viewed as an opportunity missed to make a more assertive statement on Ferguson and similar incidents given the captive, national audience.

Jobs and Economic Security… While there was considerable online criticism for the President’s scant reference to the Ferguson incident, nationally syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux heaped praise on the President for using his executive authority to secure policy gains despite congressional gridlock.

“During his State of the Union address, President Obama promised to use the power of his pen to achieve the policy objectives that Congress continues to block.  After advocating fairness and being rebuffed by Congress, the president chose to use the power of his pen to require federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 per hour, or $21,800 per year.  That puts a single parent with two children below the poverty line. Now the president is using the power of his pen to ensure that workers receive overtime pay.  Currently, the only workers required to receive overtime pay are those who earn $445 a week, about $11 an hour or $23,000 per year.  The president has proposed that that amount be raised to somewhere between $550 and $970 a year.  Splitting the difference means that those who earn about $760 a week or $39,500 a year would be entitled to overtime.  Already the business lobby has said that both a higher minimum wage and mandatory overtime cuts into their profits.  Already they have talked about cutting the number of workers they will employ, and the number of hours they will employ people.

“These greedy corporate giants fail to note that while wages and salaries for the top one percent soared by nearly a third in the past three years, the wages of those in the remaining 99 percent rose by a fraction of one percent in three years.  A worker earning $30,000 a year saw her wages rise to $30,300; someone earning $300,000 a year saw his wages rise to $396,000.

“Clearly, those who earn $30,300, if not poor, are a stone’s throw away from poverty.”

Julianne Malveaux, NPA Columnist Obama Keeps Promise to Use ‘Power of Pen’

And here’s a diverse array of black voices from across the U.S. as compiled by the editors and staff of Ebony magazine.  This iconic African American magazine’s diverse, #TeamEbony editorial team surveyed leading black voices from around the country and compiled what they call “The State of the Black Union.” Enjoy!

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