Credit Where Deserved: President Obama's Rescue of U.S. Auto Industry Was Monumental

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Obama's bailout of the U.S. auto industry was monumental. Photo--Twitter.

[Business Exchange Column]

The Obama administration deserves historical acclaim for keeping the U.S. auto industry alive and thriving. This achievement, and its benefits to the Black community, is often underestimated.

Some critics contend much of Barack Obama’s tenure was more symbol than substance; but credit should go to Obama for saving America’s society and economy. In 2010, President Obama reached out to Detroit’s auto industry in the form of an $80 billion-dollar bailout that had tremendous positive impact.

Black Americans are better off that President Obama reached out to Detroit’s auto industry in the form of the bailout. In the process of the federal bailout of General Motors Co., Chrysler and parts suppliers in 2009, the President Obama saved 1.5 million U.S. jobs and preserved an industry entailing $105.3 billion in personal and social insurance tax collections.

This was Obama’s most noteworthy act for Blacks. African Americans built and sustained middle-class lives through the nation's domestic automobile industry. The bailout started in the waning weeks of President George W. Bush's tenure. It continued during the early months of the Obama administration. All told, the Treasury Department reported that the program cost taxpayers $79.7 billion, of which $70.4 billion has been recovered. The benefits have been incalculable.

Had Obama not stepped in, declines in the auto industry could have devastated African Americans more than any other community, threatening a half-century's economic gains, from Blacks who left behind subsistence jobs in the South for high-paying factory jobs in the North during the Great Migration, to entrepreneurs who translated hard work and the gift of selling into their own businesses.

The auto industry has been good for Blacks. The percentage of African Americans in the industry — 14.2% — is higher than their share of the labor force overall.

The automotive industry provided Blacks access to middle-class livelihoods. According to a Center for Automotive Research report, the sector historically contributes 3 – 3.5 percent to the nation’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In recent years, one of every 50 African Americans was working in the auto sector. Vital to the African American population, directly employs over 1.7 million people engaged in designing, engineering, manufacturing, and supplying parts and components to assemble, sell and service new motor vehicles. Additionally, the industry is a huge consumer of goods and services from other sectors.

American manufacturing could not survive in this country without the automotive industry. There’s the factory floor where hundreds of thousands of Blacks work assembly lines to showrooms, over 200 Blacks own dealerships. There are 60 African-American automotive suppliers; the sector had annual sales of $4 billion and employed 8,000 people.

Blacks played professional roles to save the industry. The impact goes far beyond factory workers and others employed in the industry, said Randi Payton, president and CEO of On Wheels media. "The Big Three are leaders in philanthropy and major contributors to education through historically Black colleges and universities, and to non-profits such as the NAACP, Urban League and National Council of Negro Women. Actually; the auto industry also is one of African-American media’s the largest advertisers. General Motors has stood by the Black Press.

Obama’s gone, but in 2016, some 17.5 cars and light trucks were sold in the US. At almost 2.5 million units, Ford was the most successful car brand in terms of sales. Ford operates around 3,000 Ford and Lincoln stores in the US. According to the NIADA there are “over 20,000” independent car dealership members. Independent dealerships are what we would call “used car” lots. So the total number of car dealerships in the U.S. is at least 36,709

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via [email protected]

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