On the eve of President Barack Obama’s speech on reducing unemployment across America Sept. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the African-American poverty rate has reached it’s highest level in the past four years.

“The figures are both startling and very telling,” said Rev. Derrick Boykin, associate for African-American Leadership Outreach at Bread for the World. “That the African-American poverty rate is twice as high as the poverty rate for Whites reveals that African-Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from social injustices.”


According to the 2010 census data, the African-American poverty rate of 27.4 percent nearly doubles the overall U.S. poverty rate of 15.1 percent. For the fourth year in a row, the African-American rate also more than doubles the poverty rate for non-Hispanic White Americans.

The rate for African-American children is 39.1 percent. This is a result of a decline in the median household income for African-Americans to $32,068, less than two-thirds the median income of White households.

Working to fight poverty locally is Just Harvest, an Allegheny County non-profit organization that works to influence public policy and to educate, empower and mobilize citizens toward the elimination of hunger and poverty. Just Harvest Co-Director Tara Marks, went to Washington, D.C., for President Obama’s speech on the American Jobs Act on Sept. 12 to advocate for the people she serves who live in poverty and see how the bill would help them.

“This time we got it as here’s your marching orders. How I hope that translates to African-Americans is I hope it translates to success. (President Obama) talks about these jobs, that it’s going to spur all this job growth and we hope it does,” Marks said. “If it reaches the African-American community like we hope it does, it will be able to pick some people up out of poverty.”

The American Jobs Act has four components: tax cuts for small businesses, investment in education and infrastructure, the extension of unemployment benefits and tax cuts for working families. According to the White House, the bill will be fully paid for as part of the President’s long-term deficit reduction plan.

“A week ago today, I sent Congress the American Jobs Act. It’s a plan that will lead to new jobs for teachers, for construction workers, for veterans, and for the unemployed. It will cut taxes for every small business owner and virtually every working man and woman in America,” Obama said in a speech on economic growth and deficit reduction on Sept. 19. “And the proposals in this jobs bill are the kinds that have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. So there shouldn’t be any reason for Congress to drag its feet. They should pass it right away. I’m ready to sign a bill. I’ve got the pens all ready.”

The bill calls for an increase in spending in construction and education, which could equal an influx of $3.5 billion for the state of Pennsylvania. These funds will be used to create new construction jobs and to hire new teachers, police officers and firefighters.

“It was clear that the president does mean business. Like others who work in poverty and hunger we hope this bill helps the people we serve,” Marks said. “I don’t want to lose focus on the folks who will never get these jobs, who were never teachers, who never worked in construction.”

One component of the bill that could help African-Americans living in poverty is the Pathways Back to Work Fund, which would provide low-income youth and adults with opportunities to work and achieve needed training in growth industries. Pathways Back to Work could place 4,700 adults and 16,000 youth in jobs in Pennsylvania.

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