“The emphasis on strengthening education and the public school system is an important part of the president’s vision for preparing our children for the future,” Jarrett told seven African-American journalists who gathered at the White House this week before Obama’s State of the Union address.
“One of the challenges in the African-American community, with regards to college, is that many don’t have the resources to pay for it, so making improvements in Pell grants to have funds going to directly to students and improving our community colleges is important particularly for African-Americans,” Jarrett said. “And this is a core part of the president’s agenda. We’re working to design curriculums that lead to real jobs.”
Jarrett, who is perhaps Obama’s most trusted confidant, said the administration understands the growing impatience among Americans – and African-Americans in particular, who are faced with a 15.8 unemployment rate. The problem is this: The black unemployment rate is rising as the overall unemployment rate is dropping.
Seated behind a long hardwood table, Jarrett said the administration is working diligently with the private sector and putting initiatives in place to create jobs as quickly as possible – but not fast enough for many unemployed African-Americans.
“We can’t underestimate the devastation of the economic crisis that the president inherited,” Jarrett said. “Never in our lifetimes have we gone through anything that severe. In many parts of the African-American community, people were already struggling before the crisis.”
The Obama administration is listening carefully to the black electorate, particularly as Obama gears up a rough-and-tumble 2012 re-election campaign.
Behind the scenes, Jarrett said the president’s economists and other senior advisors are busy working with corporations trying to find creative ways to get Americans back to work.
“We share that anger and their frustration,” Jarrett told the black journalists.
Jarrett said one major challenge facing the administration is convincing U.S. companies to keep its jobs in the United States and not outsource to places like China and India. She said there are recent positive signs that some business leaders are coming around to Obama’s way of thinking, but she agreed that it’s a work in progress.
But Jarrett cautioned that Obama cannot fix these problems alone.
“Good ideas need to come from all sources,” she said.
Jarrett echoed what Obama has been saying for months – that the recovery efforts will take time. It’s true – but many African-Americans have grown weary of the phrase.
During his State of the Union Address, Obama was sobering, and, at times, uplifting. Jarrett said Obama “spent a good deal of time personally working on this speech” to make sure his vision for the nation was conveyed effectively.
“Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back,” Obama said. “Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”
Some companies are slowly starting to hire again, just not fast enough. But Obama did get some good news this week: His job approval ratings are up — in some polls, higher than 50 percent, which shows that some Americans are still trying to support the president even during the toughest of times.
Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, echoed the feelings of his fellow black Democrats who support Obama.
“His attitude now is, ‘Let’s get jobs moving, and a rising tide lifts all boats,’” Watt said.
The hope, however, is that Obama’s rising tide will lift the many black boats that have taken on too much water.
But inside the White House this week, Jarrett was direct, forthcoming and optimistic.
“We need to do better,” Jarrett acknowledged. “We all know that so many people of color are working in small businesses, and they’re really the economic engines of our country, so creating an incentive to help them grow and continuing to support them is the president’s priority.”