How Does the American Jobs Act Stand Up for People Of Color?

While some have a lukewarm reaction to the president's proposal, others say that elements of the plan could pay off for those who've been hardest hit by the bad economy.

By Shani O. Hilton Sep 09, 2011

In some ways, President Obama’s jobs plan was actually better than expected. Instead of the $300 billion package analysts expected, Obama went for a more than $400 billion package that includes tax cuts, as well as stimulus spending.

But, unsurprisingly, his plan for job creation doesn’t hold any specific plans for those hardest hit: people of color.

"The American Jobs Act doesn’t specifically target communities of color for help, despite unemployment rates nearly twice that of the national average," says David Callahan of the nonpartisan think tank Demos. But, Callahan says, there are "elements" that would benefit blacks and Latinos.

1.4 million blacks and 1.1 million Latinos have been searching for work six months or more, and Obama’s tax incentive to businesses that hire the longterm unemployed could help these folks out — or at least put a dent in the discrimination they face. Credits to those who hire veterans would similarly help unemployed veterans — who are disproportionately black and Latino.

And, says Anastasia Christman of the National Employment Law Project, "his focus on putting young people to work is critical for communities of color." The plan contains funding for summer job and youth work programs. "We know that delayed entry to the workforce can depress a person’s wages for decades, so it is imperative that we help these young people of color to access jobs early on."

Christman also says that sending money for jobs programs directly to cities, rather than states, is a potential boon. This, she says, "could mean that elected leaders most familiar with the challenges facing communities of color can direct funding to those neighborhoods quickly."

In addition to support for the longtime unemployed, there will be small business tax credits which Demos says will help 25,000 Latino-owned and more than 100,000 black-owned businesses. Payroll tax cuts will also put a bit more money in the pockets of all workers.

Obama urged Congress to pass the entire American Jobs Act quickly, and pay for it with deficit cuts and taxes, perhaps knowing full well that extremely unlikely.

"By proposing a plan that is more than 50 percent tax cuts and all of which is paid for, the President has indicated a willingness to engage with Republicans on their priorities," Christman says.

But Demos’ Callahan explains, "The big new spending elements of the plan – like the proposed investments in infrastructure – may be dead on arrival in the Republican House. But the proposed payroll tax cut, which could provide powerful stimulus, has been supported in the past by both parties. The same is true of extension of unemployment benefits."