Black voters are a crucial swing vote. Victory or defeat at the polls turns on whether we show up to the polls or stay home. The 2018 midterms were yet another demonstration of our power, as black voters turned out in record numbers and helped Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives.
Despite our swing votes, black voters are consistently ignored or taken for granted. We have yet to translate our power into a firm policy agenda that addresses the kitchen table issues that matter most to black communities. Instead, we get vague promises on the campaign trail — policy promises that rarely materialize into policy achievements that address the persistent disparities affecting black Americans.
From unfair lending practices, to unmet infrastructure needs and falling wages that fail to keep pace with the cost of living, solutions to these real-world problems are restricted to rhetoric. The results of that neglect are clear: The U.S. Census Bureau found that poverty rates in the black community have skyrocketed 15 percent over the last 50 years, compared to 2 percent among whites. It’s little wonder why 72 percent of black Americans are dissatisfied with the economic situations for black Americans.
By focusing on work, wages and wealth we can reverse these trends and advance economic prosperity in black communities. An integral part of this mission is supporting candidates for office who promote a policy agenda focused on improving economic outcomes for black Americans — and holding elected officials accountable to that agenda once they take office.
With more than 20 presidential candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, and primaries and caucuses roughly eight months away, candidates must get specific about how they will address black communities’ economic issues if they have any hope of mobilizing the support needed to win the White House.
And black voters are more engaged than ever. After surveying more than 1,000 African Americans nationwide, the Black Economic Alliance found that there is an urgency and demand for candidates who embrace a black economic agenda.
Specifically, creating good-paying jobs with benefits and making sure people have the training and skills needed for the jobs of the future were identified as top priorities for improving the economic and financial situations of black Americans. Three out of 4 say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate with a plan to improve working conditions, wages and wealth in the black community, including 49 percent who would be much more likely.
For that reason, the Black Economic Alliance will host a first-of-its-kind presidential forum June 15 in Charleston focused solely on expanding economic opportunities for black Americans. This conversation is long overdue.
Several top-tier 2020 candidates — Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas — will all have an opportunity to make their case in the important primary state with a sizable black electorate.
The candidates must share detailed proposals on how they will help empower and improve economic opportunity for black Americans. Some Democratic candidates have shared their initial economic policy goals — from addressing income inequality to expanding access to homeownership. But this forum, hosted by Soledad O’Brien, will push candidates to offer specific solutions and firm commitments that address work, wages and wealth within the black community.
Black Americans need a plan that targets the higher unemployment rates, lower income levels and declining home ownership within black communities. We need a plan that ensures that formerly incarcerated Americans have access to job and skills training to ease their reentry into the labor market and allows them to contribute to their communities’ prosperity.
November 2020 is still a long way away and the field is crowded. But the coming months will be pivotal in determining the Democratic nominee for president — and this time, no one candidate can take black voters for granted.
Tune in to BET on June 16 as we hear what candidates have planned to advance policies that can and will create economic opportunities for Black Americans. We deserve more than promises. We deserve results.
Akunna Cook is executive director of the Black Economic Alliance, a coalition of business leaders and aligned advocates committed to economic progress and prosperity in the black community.