Skip to main content

Economy tops agenda as Obama meets with African-American leaders

Click to play
Black leaders meet with Obama
  • Obama meets with Rev. Al Sharpton, top officials from NAACP and Urban League
  • Group urges Obama to help areas with chronically high unemployment, source says
  • They suggest funds could come from money reserved for bank bailouts
  • African-Americans not asking special treatment, but inclusion, Sharpton says

Washington (CNN) -- The thorny intersection of race and the economy topped the political agenda Wednesday as President Obama huddled with key African-American leaders at the White House.

Obama held what has been dubbed an "urban economy summit" in the Oval Office with a group including the Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, and National Urban League President Marc Morial.

National Council of Negro Women Chairwoman Dorothy Height, who is 97 years old, declined an invitation to attend due to the winter storm pounding the Washington area.

The group urged Obama to spend money initially reserved for bank bailouts on areas suffering from chronically high unemployment, according to sources familiar with the attendees' plans.

The investments should be "place-based rather than race-based," Jealous said.

The cornerstone of the civil rights leaders' plan calls for $150 billion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds to be redirected to state and local governments to hire workers to provide critical services in underserved communities.

The White House has not yet proposed tapping the TARP fund for a new jobs program, with the exception of potentially using it to help expand credit lines for small businesses.

The nation's first African-American president remains extremely popular among black voters. A number of African-American leaders, however, are increasingly upset with what they perceive as the federal government's inattention to the needs of economically hard-hit minority communities.

"We do not seek any special kind of edict or special kind of thing from the president because he's African-American," Sharpton said.

President Obama planned to meet with African-American leaders on Wednesday.
President Obama planned to meet with African-American leaders on Wednesday.

But he said African-Americans do "expect to be included in the process" as Congress debates a new jobs bill and are seeking "substantive change" and not mere "feel-good moments."

Jealous blasted what some political observers have characterized as a GOP strategy of complete opposition to Obama's agenda.

The Republicans are using obstructionist "tactics from the last century" previously employed against African-Americans and now used "against working people," he said. "It's not enough to say no, no, no when people ... are suffering, suffering, suffering," he said. "It's not enough to just hold up progress."

While the national unemployment rate is now 9.7 percent, the jobless rate among African-Americans is hovering around 15 percent. Over 40 percent of black teenagers are unemployed, according to the National Urban League.

Obama has previously argued that the administration's $862 billion stimulus package, as well as its other job growth initiatives, would benefit many of the country's hardest-hit communities.

The plan presented to Obama was expected to include recommendations to:

• Expand the small business administration's Community Express Loan Program;

• Provide a stronger focus on communities with high unemployment;

• Invest $500 million for housing counselors to work with people who are delinquent on loans;

• Expand summer youth jobs programs by investing up to $7 billion to employ 5 million teenagers;

• Create 100 "urban job academies" to train the chronically unemployed.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.