The debt crisis has been called a potential catastrophe for the economy if the United States defaults Aug. 2. But NAACP President Benjamin Jealous isn’t sure things could get any worse for many African Americans.

“We’re in the worst,” Jealous said Thursday after he and National Urban League President Mark Morial met with President Obama at the White House. “We need to be doing what our parents and grandparents did during the Great Depression. ... The values and strategies that got us out of the Great Depression are the only things that we have to get us out of this terrible situation.”

In fact, the unemployment rate for blacks stands at 16 percent, which matches Depression-era levels. Obama, who made his historic run to the White House with overwhelming support in the black community, has taken heavy criticism lately from some influential African Americans for not doing enough to lift the fortunes of the black underclass.

Two of the staunchest critics, talk show host Tavis Smiley and scholar Cornel West, are launching an anti-poverty tour next month.

Obama met with Jealous and Morial during a break in a day of meetings with his economic and political advisers and with Congressional leaders on the debt ceiling negotiations. The two pressed the president to preserve the entitlement programs, such as Medicare and food stamps, that are critical to many African American families.

Morial called the meeting “positive” and said the president pledged to meet with them again after the debt crisis is resolved to turn his attention to job creation. Morial said he pushed Obama to consider the Urban League’s 12-point job plan.

The two civic leaders saved their criticism for Obama’s Republican and Tea Party rivals.

“There is a countervailing force that wants to turn the hands of time back — not to 1990, not to 1980, but to some distant past period of time,” Morial said.

Asked if a large segment of blacks would abandon Obama in his reelection bid if the economy continued to lag, Jealous did not directly answer the question.

Rather, he noted that Republicans saw big gains during the 2010 midterm elections, and he encouraged African Americans to turn out at the polls next year.

“I hope we learned from 2010 that if you stay home, you lose,” he said.