National Press Club

African American entrepreneur urges swift action on black unemployment

March 26, 2013 | By Bob Webb |

Robert  L. Johnson

Robert L. Johnson

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Billionaire entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson urged the nation to reduce the high unemployment of African Americans at a March 26 National Press Club luncheon.

Citing a Zogby poll on African American attitudes, he said "When polled on why African-Americans believe black unemployment is consistently double that of whites, responses include failure of the education system for minorities, lack of corporate commitment to hiring minorities and a failure of government policies for hiring practices."

"Afrcan-Americans have been the hardest hit" by the nation's economic downturn, he said.

"African-Americans were once the largest ethnic minority group and the dominant minority political voice," he said. That was before they were "confronted with the growing political influence of the Hispanic population, which may directly impact competition for jobs and minority business opportunities," he said.

Johnson wishes the two minority groups would get to know each other better. Although unaware of how much the groups interact, he thinks they might well act together for their joint economic growth.

To improve the lot of African-Americans he wants "to create a discussion within the black communities and the broader community to bring to the forefront of public debate key issues of primary concern to African-Americans."

He said the Zogby poll "reveals that African-Americans have an immense sense of pride in Barack Obama as President of the United States and he is unequivocally liked. He receives a 91 percent favorable rating. Seventy two percent believe that President Obama's election has helped them while only 4 percent believe his election has hurt them."

He expressed some unease about what may happen when Obama's term ends. He said a majority of those polled, 62 percent, are optimistic about employment in the next four years. Johnson also said the poll showed 30 percent of respondents believe they are better off financially compared to four years ago.

Johnson said he didn't think recent comments and criticism of Obama by Benjamin Carson, an African-American, would amount to much.

Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, sold the network years ago and is now chairman of RLJ Companies. Born in Hickory, Miss., he grew up in Freeport, Ill. and received a master's degree in international affairs from Princeton University.