African Americans seek answers on jobs and education in 2012 election


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Among the many issues concerning the general population as the presidential election approaches, two jump out specifically for local leaders in the African American community: the economy and education.

With African American unemployment rates nearly double the national average, local officials said the economy is front and center for good reason.

“Addressing jobs, this issue of creating more jobs, is what African Americans are looking for in a candidate,” said Anthony Ferguson, the president of the University of Iowa Black Student Union.

Both campaigns try to address this issue not only for the sake of African Americans but for the country as a whole. President Obama hopes to achieve further economic growth through strengthening the middle class, investing in innovation, and raising taxes for the richest Americans.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney plans to cut taxes, government regulation, and spending.

“We want people to stick with us because we’re headed in the right direction,” said Elizabeth Purchia, the Iowa press secretary for Obama for America.

Purchia said Obama has accomplished a lot in the past four years; the economy is getting better, she said, and he only needs more time.

But Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker said he doesn’t believe Obama really is focused on jobs.

“The biggest thing we can do is get people back to work,” he said. “Romney is clearly the better choice because his No. 1 focus is jobs and the economy.”

Second to the economy, many African Americans are concerned about the quality of schools and limited access to higher education because of economic hurdles.

Dedric Doolin, the president of the Cedar Rapids chapter of the NAACP, a nonpartisan and issue-focused group, said education is so critical to a successful society  in today’s world because so many jobs require good education.

“If we don’t educate our community, we’re going to have some problems,” he said.

Nationally, there is a large gap in education between African Americans and whites. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is a 19 percent gap between the number of whites and blacks who earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2011.

Sue Dvorsky, the chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Obama knows the concern about the unemployment rates as well as public education.

“President Obama is uniquely qualified to speak to the issue,” Dvorsky said. “He really does understand [because] good public education is the path he took.”

Since taking office, Obama has invested in Pell Grants and allowed states a way out of the No Child Left Behind legislation in order to create their own reform plans.

Romney advocates for parental choice in school selection for their students. He would require failing schools to provide a list of alternative schools to parents. In terms of higher education, Romney wants to simplify the financial-aid process and reduce the amount of federal money put into colleges.

Despite what both campaigns might say to address the issues, some say they haven’t noticed an attempt by the Romney campaign to reach out to the black community specifically.

Julianna Pacheco, a UI assistant professor of political science, said African Americans overwhelmingly identify with the Democratic Party. She doesn’t believe Romney has been reaching out to the African American community very much in order to campaign efficiently.

“Both campaigns have a limited amount of resources, and they’re going to use those resources strategically,” she said.

Pacheco said it is easier to mobilize voters who are already on a candidate’s side rather than persuade voters to change their opinions, and this is what both candidates are trying to do.

“[Romney is] going to take his resources to where he thinks it’s going to make a difference,” she said.

“[Obama] is trying to mobilize [African Americans] and get them out to vote. He needs to let them know this election is just as important as the last one.”

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