They are his most fiercely loyal supporters, a powerful voting block who came out en masse in 2008 to help make Barack Obama America’s first African-American president.
But African-Americans contend that they’ve been forgotten for much of the last four years as they fared the worst during the economic downturn of any other groups, according to the National Urban League. But the current feelings of anger, disappointment and betrayal that are palpable today stem less from that as much as the feeling among African-Americans that President Obama has seen to the needs of every other constituency but theirs.
That widespread disillusionment after the lofty high expectations of four years ago could be what keeps some of them from returning the polls on Election Day and dooms Obama’s bid for a second term.
The numbers bear the reasons out.
In the current economic downturn, the African-American middle class has lost virtually all the gains they made over the past 30 years, according to the National Urban League. Median annual household income for blacks declined by more than 11 percent between June 2009 and June 2012, according to the Census bureau, twice the loss suffered by whites.
African-Americans as well as Latinos have also borne much of the pain from the housing downturn.
Even young African-Americans with college education suffer high unemployment rates and constricted job opportunities. Better than 15 percent of all black workers between 18 and 24 are unemployed, with more than 43 percent of the recent graduates now working doing so at jobs that don’t really require a college education according to a recent report by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
A recent poll by Politico and George Washington University found that 82 percent of whites said they were “extremely likely” to vote, compared the mere 71 percent of African-Americans, and 70 percent of Latinos who expressed the same intention.
The country’s harsh economic realities have clearly led to a lack of enthusiasm on the parts of those most adversely affected by the nation’s economic downturn. Obama will need every vote as his tight race with Republican challenger Mitt Romney winds to a close, particularly in several key swing states such as Ohio and Virginia.
Recent polls show that the president still enjoys an overwhelming advantage in the black community, as he did four years ago in garnering 95 percent of the black vote. But whether African-Americans feel galvanized enough to actually go out and vote again in the large numbers they did in 2008 could be the key to the race’s outcome.
African-Americans initially beamed with pride upon his election, treating it as evidence that our nation had at last moved forward past its anemic racial history. Streets across the nation were filled with joyous African-Americans who were thrilled beyond measure that someone who looked like them would be sitting in the Oval Office for the first time in our nation’s history.
But things didn’t work out as well as people would have liked. What was believed then to be a long-awaited triumph for African-Americans has never really materialized as the chasm between black and white income and wealth equality has grown ever wider, with opportunities for social mobility lessening.
Additionally, racial attitudes have only worsened during Obama’s first term.
According to an Associated Press poll finds, a slight majority of Americans at 51 percent now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not, a slight increase from the 48 percent who admitted doing so in 2008. Additionally, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
To be fair, Obama was damned either way upon taking office in January 2009.
Promising to be a president of all America and not just black America meant that Obama had to make decisions for the greater good, not just for his one core group. It’s meant that Obama has been forced to walk a narrow line so as to be defined as more than just “the black president” and alienate white Americans whose help he also needs.
But African-Americans still expected more than what they’ve seen. Obama has largely avoided speaking of racial issues, poverty or other social injustices altogether in his first term.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that the president spoke forcefully on a civil rights matter. It took the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida before he proclaimed, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Professor Cornel West and talk show host Tavis Smiley have been among Obama’s fiercest critics about his lack of achievement for African-Americans, but others like radio host Tom Joyner are urging all black people to stick together.
Black politicians, too, have also withheld their fire.
“With 14 percent unemployment if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House,” Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Root last month. “The president knows we are going to act in deference to him in a way we wouldn’t to someone white.”
Critics say they are simply asking a Democratic president what he’s done for the most loyal Democratic constituency, one that happens to consist of African-Americans in dire need of help.
They don’t like the answers they’ve gotten so far.