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BET founder Bob Johnson is encouraging President Obama to get serious about black unemployment. The billionaire businessman met with the President last winter — along with a dozen other black business leaders — to discuss a plan to increase employment within the black community, but after arranging follow-up meetings with White House staff, he said the effort eventually “fizzled out.”
The plan Johnson presented to the president was to encourage U.S. corporations to voluntarily embrace a plan to interview at least two qualified minority candidates for every job at the vice president level or above. He added that companies should also interview two minority-owned firms for vendor supply and other contracts. “We are never going to close this gap unless there is a conscious commitment to do so,” Johnson said of the unemployment disparity. When the idea was presented to President Obama last year, Johnson says the president said he liked the idea and would pursue it with his jobs council — a panel of corporate leaders that advises the president on job creation. Johnson said the idea follows the Rooney Rule model used in the NFL that requires teams to interview minority candidates seeking head-coaching or general manager jobs before making hiring decisions. .
Johnson’s plan has been endorsed by the National Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S. Black Chamber Inc., and leading civil rights leaders. He said he decided to issue a public statement pushing the idea after reading an article in the Washington Post about the racial unemployment gap. White House spokesman, Kevin S. Lewis, responded to Johnson’s remarks in a statement saying: “President Obama is deeply committed to growing our economy from the middle out by ensuring a strong, secure, and thriving middle-class and ensuring that everyone has a fair shot, a fair shake and plays by the same set of rules.”
Johnson said the president seems to believe that an improvement in the economy would address the problem, but black joblessness needs to be tackled head-on. Although the nation funded billions of dollars towards education, which resulted in the number of black college graduates tripling over the past 25 years, Johnson said “it is not moving the needle” on unemployment.