Economy is top of mind for Black men in Michigan

Economy is top of mind for Black men in Michigan
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(SAGINAW, Mich.) — For many in Saginaw, Michigan, a town less than two hours north of Detroit, the once-thriving hub for the auto industry is now a shell of itself.

After several major factories closed in the county, the local economy has struggled to fully recover.

“Some of the things that have plagued us are the lack of good jobs, the ones that can take care of a family,” Hurley Coleman III, executive director of Saginaw County Community Action Center, told ABC News’ “Nightline.”

Coleman’s organization helps to provide low-income and elderly Saginaw residents with resources like food and housing assistance.

While the U.S. unemployment rate is at 4%, dropping to historic lows during the Biden administration’s first term, Black unemployment in Michigan is roughly 50% higher than the national average, hovering over 6.1%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“My concern personally is our Black community and our men and our women, being able to have the opportunity to go into homes, financial literacy, education, opportunities to advance,” Coleman said.

In this county, which is roughly 45% Black, according to the U.S. Census, voters have looked to both parties in recent elections in hopes of change.

In 2008 and 2012, Saginaw voted for former President Barack Obama. Trump won the county in 2016, but Biden took a close victory in 2020 by just 303 votes.

In a battleground like Michigan, a key state needed to win the Oval Office, Saginaw is a pivotal county.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns have made stops in Saginaw, focusing on making sharp contrasts to one another in their vision for rebuilding the economy.

“I’m going to turn it around. I’ll bring you the car industry back to Michigan,” Trump said to voters during a campaign stop on May 1.

Biden met with Coleman during his visit to Saginaw on March 14.

“We talked about inflation and what it feels like to go to the grocery store. To pull out $25 and figure out how far that $25 can stretch,” Coleman told “Nightline.”

“I believe in what President Biden is trying to accomplish and I will be standing with him,” Coleman added.

First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff have also made campaign stops in Saginaw, visiting Baldwin’s Smokehouse BBQ, a Black-owned business in East Saginaw.

The owner of the restaurant, Roy Baldwin, 69, told ABC News he voted for Biden in 2020 and plans to do so again in November, but he remains worried about the economy, as he struggles to bounce back from inflation.

“I don’t think either one could make a big difference in the economy. I think things just got to level out. I don’t think a president really has much power to change any of that,” Baldwin said, noting that he thinks division in Congress has stalled policies that would benefit him.

Despite his worries, he says he’s committed to casting a ballot in November.

“My motivation in voting goes back to being a child. When my parents and other Blacks were not allowed to vote, and saw the struggle of at least having a voice,” Baldwin said. “We fought for it. We died to have a right and a voice.”

But not everyone is convinced.

At a gathering hosted by Coleman’s organization, a group of fathers brainstormed ways to improve their community for their children.

Among them was Antonio Brooks, a 47-year-old community organizer who grew up in Saginaw and watched the area transform after multiple factory closures caused a rise in poverty.

Brooks tells ABC News that he has voted Democrat in every election for more than two decades, a political stance he says he was taught to follow in the Black community he was raised in. But this election cycle, for the first time, he is considering not voting at all.

“I have the right to stand firm in my own beliefs and what I believe is they’re [Trump and Biden] not good candidates for the people,” Brooks said.

Brooks voted for Biden in the 2020 presidential election, hoping to see the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, reform the president and other Democrats advocated for to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels.

However, several attempts to pass police reform ultimately have failed in Congress, never making it to Biden’s desk during his first term.

“All we do is go in and just vote for a straight ticket. We don’t really vet the ballots and we don’t really vet the candidates. We just vote Democrat. So we’re not holding them accountable. We’re just giving them our vote,” Brooks said. “I feel like you don’t deserve it, I’m not giving it to you anymore. I keep it to myself.”

While the Black community still overwhelmingly supports Democrats, some of that support could be eroded. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll shows that some Black people may have moved away from President Joe Biden.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Florida, a prominent Black conservative and a vice presidential contender, has been actively courting undecided Black voters in hopes of getting them to vote for Trump. The congressman most recently moderated a roundtable discussion with Trump at a church in Detroit on June 15.

In the last three presidential election cycles, Black men were more likely than Black women to vote Republican, according to ABC News analysis of exit polling data.

“I believe that voters in our country are shifting underneath the feet of the political parties,” Donalds told ABC News Chief National Correspondent and “Nightline” Co-Anchor Byron Pitts.

“I think there’s a frustration with the American people just with politics overall. I think people are somewhat tired of politics being the first, or fifth, topic in every room they walk into. And at the end of the day, I think the American people just want common sense policies that work,” Donalds said.

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