In the soaring words President Obama unleashed in last night’s State of the Union address, there was plenty for Americans to digest, including initiatives, programs and proposals that will resonate with African-Americans and boost Black communities across the country.
Here are some of the proposals Obama discussed during his speech that will help African-Americans:
At a gathering called the College Opportunity Summit held earlier this month, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits made concrete commitments to reduce inequities in access to higher education – and to help every hardworking student go to college and succeed when they get to campus.
“Opportunity is who we are,” the president said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”
The president wants to use the money saved from reforming the tax code to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports and unclogging our commutes. He called on Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by passing transportation and waterways bills by this summer. He will use executive orders to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects to get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible. For the Black community, with the highest unemployment rates in the country, that’s welcome news.
The president said he put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: to train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.
Obama said that means more on-the-job training and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.
The president urged Congress to restore long-term unemployment insurance for the 1.6 million people whose benefits expired on Dec. 28, which would dramatically help unemployed African-Americans.
With his Race to the Top education initiative, which offered millions to school districts that come up with creative reform programs to boost student performance, the president said he has helped states raise expectations and performance.
Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, the administration is offering millions of young people the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income.
The president said he is enlisting the help of some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting program.
—Equal Pay for Women
The president pointed out that women, who make up about half of the national workforce, still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
“That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment,” he said. “A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what? A father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”
Obama promised that he will continue to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour—pointing out that in the past year, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. He said he will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.
“Because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” he said.
“To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on,” he continued. “And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too.”
Obama pointed out that under his Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans, and more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.
“And here’s another number: zero,” he said. “Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.”