Why the President is Often Unfairly Blamed for Economic Turmoil
Since Republicans began campaigning this election season, one of the trending topics that have been incessantly covered in both debates and speeches has been the performance of Obama’s economic policies, in addition to how it has affected the financial situation of African Americans and other minorities. Many Republicans, most notably Donald Trump, have made the bold claim that under Obama, African Americans and Hispanics have fared much worse than previous administrations.
Are these claims true or are they merely political talking points aimed at belittling Obama’s work as President of the United States? While most could agree that Republicans like Donald Trump tend to unfairly scapegoat Obama for the current situation of the country, in a way there is some truth to their claims that the economic situation of minorities are relatively bleak, depending on the way you frame it.
For example, in the year 2009, when President Obama was sworn into office, the median income level for African-Americans was $35,954 dollars. Take into consideration that this was also shortly after the disastrous 2008 financial crisis that the country is still recovering from to this day. Either way you look at it, however, in the year 2014, five years after being in office, the median income of African-Americans in the United States dropped to approximately $35,398 dollars.
When looking solely at these numbers, it is easy to say “look, the median African American income decreased under Obama, therefore we should blame him for causing this decrease since he was president during this time frame.” In actuality, the reasons for the gradual decrease in income are multidimensional and complex so when Republicans, or critics of the President for that matter, try to directly link these problems to the President, it is nothing more than obfuscating reality and ignoring the facts. Rather than attributing this loss in income to world economic events, for example, critics will often cite Obama as the main contributor to the many problems that the country is facing. They don’t talk about the fact that China, one of the main engines of global economic growth and the largest trading partner with the United States, has had great financial woes in the past few years nor has anyone mentioned low, global oil prices as a reason for thousands of U.S. workers losing their jobs just in the past year. Given the fact that the United States’ economy is globalized and extremely integrated with the world economy, external problems can have just as significant of an effect on the economy as internal ones.
Other numbers that are often cited as a way to criticize the current administration are the poverty rate and unemployment numbers of African Americans as well. Looking at the numbers, we see that the poverty levels of African Americans, at least from the period of 2009 to 2014, has gotten slightly worse. In 2009, the poverty rate for blacks was roughly 25.8 percent, but nearly 5 years later the number has risen to 26.2 percent. On the other hand, however, the unemployment rate for blacks in 2009 was 12.7 percent which has steadily dropped to 8.8 percent this year. Clearly, the numbers are inconsistent, in terms of growth versus decline, and has left people confused. Many people are still asking, “are minorities better off under Obama or what?” Admittedly, there is no specific barometer for measuring this, as it can be very subjective and complex, but there are a few methods that would make this process easier.
For one, measuring economic mobility could be an alternative way to measure whether or not an ethnic group is performing better off during a fixed period of time, in addition to other barometers previously discussed. Economic mobility is a concept that attempts to depict the trajectory of individuals in a society and their ability to ‘climb’ up higher economic and social classes. Since a vast majority of the people in the country are not born to a wealthy family and inherit vast amounts of money, people tend to begin at the bottom of the economic ladder and gradually work their way up. Economic mobility measures whether or not these opportunities exist and tracks the progress of ethnic groups by age and other determinants.
This method will help identify whether or not well-paying jobs and opportunities for advancement are available not just for minorities, but for whites as well. Having said that, you could compare the trajectory of growth for Whites versus Blacks and Hispanics and determine how well each ethnicity is doing under a pre-selected presidential administration over a course of time. This way one could identify whether the lack of improvement of minorities’ incomes is attributed to a systemic problem or if economic hardships are not just isolated to them, but to whites as well. Potentially dispelling the notion of preferred economic treatment and benefit, identifying the entire spectrum of financial growth of all ethnic groups can help put an end to the myths surrounding economic disparities. Conversely, it could potentially reveal any longstanding disparities between economic classes which could ultimately enable policy makers to formulate proper responses for combating them.
Rather than looking at problems through a microscopic lens, people tend to look at them from a very simplistic and black and white point of view. Relating this to the world of politics, politicians often point fingers at the President and a small number of individuals, obviously for political gain, and levy the blame on them for being the main perpetrators of economic recessions or downturns that inevitably occur. These politicians conveniently skirt around the broader issues and possible explanations in favor of oversimplifying them. Just watch the news. You’ll hardly hear a peep from the more polarizing pundits or politicians, like Donald Trump, about the state of the world economy and how it affects the United States’ economy, thus affecting job production, income growth, and a plethora of other factors. It’s so much easier to just act like 5th graders, pointing fingers and essentially saying “he did it.”
So when people ask the question, “are minorities doing considerably better or worse under ‘X’ administration,” the way to approach this question would be to look at every confounding variable possible. The President, most times, doesn’t have control over world events so it’s a bit shortsighted to claim that he/she is responsible for all of the country’s problems when global problems can greatly affect the United States economy irrespective of what happens internally. Instead of looking at random numbers that are often cited by people looking to make a point, let’s look at the numbers on a case by case basis and determine every factor that would alter them. Let’s look at other potential measurements of economic advancement like economic mobility, which can help identify whether or not the opportunity for advancement is available in the first place. If it is there, then we should definitely be asking the questions why certain cross-sections of the population aren’t able to utilize them properly, and if they aren’t there then we need to create these opportunities. By having shallow debates, we will never develop concrete, effective solutions to the many preexisting economic and social obstacles facing the country today, thus ensuring that future generations will inherit and suffer from our very own short fallings.