Obama's jobs proposal includes more of the same: more money to the states for fiscal stabilization, more weatherization initiatives, more infrastructure spending. But simply sending more money to the states and hoping for a better ROI than the stimulus package would be insane. States and localities will use federal dollars to plug budget holes and save the jobs of public employees.
There are growing doubts about the number of jobs "created or saved" by stimulus spending, but there is no doubt that people of color are disproportionately unemployed. A jobs proposal that does not target those hardest hit by the recession will leave African Americans standing in the unemployment line.
To reach those most in need, Obama will have to do more than spend an additional $50 billion on transportation projects. As Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of the New York Daily News, observed during the infrastructure breakout session at the White House jobs forum, infrastructure spending is fraught with "politics, patronage and private deals":
You have to take it out of the political system and put it in some kind of professionally-managed decision-making process where decisions are made much more in the national interest and economic values of the country than the system we have now.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's letter to the nation's governors urging them to "provide small disadvantaged businesses and female and minority workers a fair chance to participate in transportation projects" is a tacit admission that African American workers and minority entrepreneurs have been told to "get back, get back, get back."
I urge you to take advantage of existing equal opportunity programs and resources and to create innovative strategies to provide opportunities for the underrepresented.
In a letter to the President, the Congressional Black Caucus recommended some prescriptive measures (read: innovative strategies) to address systemic inequities. They include local hiring requirements, job and entrepreneurial training, and increased funding for infrastructure projects in economically distressed areas.
As currently proposed, Obama's jobs package would widen racial disparities in labor market participation and wealth creation. The "cash for caulkers" program will not help homeowners who are underwater or facing foreclosure. Instead, homeowners who can afford to weatherize their homes will increase their property value with the help of a $12,000 taxpayer-funded rebate.
Clearly, this is not the change that motivated black voters to turn out in record numbers and make history in 2008. While black folks remain reluctant to criticize Obama, the whispers are getting louder.