As he delivers his first State of the Union address tonight, President Donald Trump is looking for approval. He’ll brag on the economy, with a likely focus on his Twitter claim that “because of my policies,” black unemployment is at its “lowest rate ever recorded.”
He made that claim while responding to Jay-Z’s criticisms and also has declared to African Americans that “Dems did nothing for you but get your vote.”
Trump is like a man who jumps on a moving train and takes credit for its speed. He claims he inherited a “mess” and transformed it. In fact, Obama inherited the mess — an economy in free fall, losing 700,000 jobs a month. He turned it around.
Trump inherited an economy enjoying a record stretch of months with private sector jobs growth. Black unemployment fell under Obama. In fact, Trump created slightly fewer new jobs in his first year than Obama did in his last.
Trump is riding the economic momentum created under Obama. His policies haven’t really taken hold yet. He’s not passed a budget. His posturing on trade hasn’t resulted in new policies yet or reduced our trade deficits.
In touting the unemployment figure, Trump also simply ignores the stark reality facing many African Americans — and other working people. Too many are working without a living wage, without affordable health care, without affordable mass transit, without overtime, paid vacations, paid family leave and more.
Black unemployment remains virtually twice that of white unemployment — and the headline unemployment figure doesn’t count those who have given up looking for jobs, those who can only find part-time work, those whose wages can’t support a family. In Chicago and other cities, there are neighborhoods with unemployment at 20 percent, poverty at 40 percent and conditions far worse for young African-American men. That hasn’t changed under Trump.
What African-Americans see is a president who is rousing racial divisions, fears and hatreds, from Charlottesville, Virginia, to the slurring of Obama to the insult on Haiti and s—hole countries to the demonizing of immigrants, particularly people of color.
What we see is an administration that is systematically rolling back civil rights protections. It has decimated civil rights offices in the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and elsewhere.
The Department of Justice has reversed position on voting rights cases, standing with those in Texas and elsewhere who would suppress the vote. It has virtually abandoned consent decrees in civil rights cases, weakening its ability to enforce remedies to violations. Trump is packing the courts with right-wing justices who stand with corporations and against the rights of minorities and women.
We see an administration that has systematically favored the rich and the corporations over working and poor people. It opposes lifting the minimum wage. It has slashed enforcement of worker rights, worker safety laws and prosecution of wage theft. It has reversed a long overdue expansion of overtime rights, costing working people literally billions in overtime pay. Most recently, it has proposed allowing restaurant and hotel owners to take over the allocation of tips, a change that would cost some of the lowest paid workers earnings they need to survive.
We see an administration that seeks to slash virtually every program that supports the vulnerable — of all colors and races. Its efforts to repeal Obamacare, rollback Medicaid, cut investment in schools, Pell grants, student loans, training, low-cost housing and more will disproportionately hit people of color.
We see an administration that has pushed to expand mass incarceration, instructing prosecutors to seek maximum sentences, ending efforts to reform racist police practices. Trump inherited a justice system that systematically discriminates against people of color. He and his Justice Department will make it worse.
Trump’s long promised and yet unseen plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure offers a true opportunity for good jobs. A major effort will be made to have any legislation that emerges target areas of high unemployment — both rural and urban — and include sums for training so that those left out of the economy can find their way in. By all accounts, Trump wants to spend less and offer private investors big returns. Will he therefore oppose efforts to make the rebuilding inclusive? We shall see.
In his presidential campaign, Trump called on African Americans to vote for him, arguing, “What have you got to lose?” But African-American voters saw someone who had risen by peddling the racist slur about Obama not being American, someone who had profited by peddling division and appealing to fears.
They are looking for someone who will help them get an equal shot and move to provide equal justice under the law. Real full employment helps, because African Americans are too often the last hired. But there was full employment under slavery. Working Americans — black, white and brown, of all races and creeds — are looking for a champion.
Sorry, Mr. Trump, taking credit for growth that you did not create won’t get it done.
_Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is the founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition.