That’s the item at the top of the Black political agenda for the next four years. Throughout the recent recession African Americans have outpaced other groups in joblessness. The most recent data show that, while the general unemployment rate continued to decrease, reaching 7.9 percent in October, Black unemployment jumped to 14.3 percent.

Reducing foreclosures in the Black community and addressing persistent disparities in the justice system are also some key issues that require attention. But political analysts and African-American leaders are divided on the possible fate of the Black agenda under another four years of the Obama administration.

The president, facing criticism for failing to reverse Black unemployment during his first term, stressed that he serves the entire nation, not just Black residents. “I can’t pass laws that say I’m just helping Black folks. I’m the president of the United States,” the president said in a Dec. 21, 2010 interview with {American Urban Radio Networks}. “What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need. That in turn is going to help lift up the African-American community.”

But the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach to public policy stuck in the craw of some who questioned the president’s commitment to the Black community then and continue to question it now. The pressure for progressive leadership will only increase when Obama is confronted with filling at least one expected vacancy on the Supreme Court with the anticipated retirement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“I don’t think he has a big desire to fight for Black people,” said Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University and a frequent critic of President Obama. “He talks about women’s issues, for example, he boasts about passing the Lilly Ledbetter Act and how it benefits women; he talks about gay marriage and other gay rights issues, but where is something like that for Black people?”

But, Fauntroy said, he doesn’t expect fireworks under a second Obama administration.
“He will not be more outspoken on Black issues because one, it’s not in his nature; and two, Black people are not going to push him to. Black leaders have been hesitant to be critical of the president…[and] most people (African Americans) are just happy to have a Black president. Unless he kicks Michelle out of the house and starts dating Kim Kardashian, Black people aren’t going to make much of a fuss.”

Some Black leaders are upbeat about the prospects of a second Obama administration.
“His administration has done an extraordinary job of doing the heavy lifting as it regards our agenda,” said Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director and senior vice president for policy and advocacy of the NAACP. “He did a yeoman’s job of raising our issues and moving them forward even if he did not label them as ‘Black’ issues.

“If I was going to be critical of the administration,” Shelton added, “…it would be about their failure to talk about what they’ve accomplished. They have not done a good job of letting the African-American community know what has been done for them.”

Among those victories, Shelton said, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a measure aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women.

Another early victory was enactment of a bill to extend coverage of the States’ Children’s Health Insurance Program at a time when 30 percent of Black children were without health insurance. And, a tough battle over the {Affordable Care Act} signaled the president’s commitment to help vulnerable populations, including the Black community.

The legislation, labeled Obamacare by his critics, included provisions to close the racial disparity in health care, made health insurance more affordable for millions of uninsured African Americans, and provides free preventive care among other gains.

In education, the president also fought for and won increases in Pell Grants—necessary resources for many African-American students—doubling the number of college students receiving the award; provided millions in funding to historically Black colleges and universities and introduced Race to the Top grants, an initiative to foster positive outcomes in K-12 education.

“He’s focused on those areas that have a disproportionate impact on African Americans in terms of positive policy,” agreed Lorenzo Morris, a political analyst at Howard University. Listing policies such as the bailout of the auto industry—manufacturing is a key economic engine of the Black middle-class— and funding to maintain public service jobs, Morris added, “These are things that would not have happened under a comparable Republican president.”

In a second term, Obama would be free to set more aggressive policy goals in health care,
job creation and higher taxes on high-income groups. But he’s not the only one who has to be more assertive, he added.

“I would like to see more pressure on Obama from the Left,” Morris, a Howard University professor, said. “They have been silent while the Tea Party has romped through the media.

“There has been no clear articulation of a Black or even a progressive agenda and Black leaders must bring those agenda items forward and fight for them.”