The month-long initiative shines light on friction between Obama and Black lawmakers over unemployment.
The Congressional Black Caucus kicked off its five-city “For the People” job fair–town hall initiative kicked off at Cleveland State University on Monday as thousands turned out to meet with approximately 100 employers offering work in a range of fields, from fast-food servers to high-level engineers. Participating employers said they hope to fill about 2,500 positions nationwide, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
It was a bittersweet day for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who hosted the first event. On one hand, she was heartened by the fact that people have not given up hope of finding work, but she also was saddened to see so many in need, some of whom showed up with their children in tow.
"I wanted it to start here because we have a lot of need. I was willing to take on the responsibility to make it happen," Fudge said. “I've been telling people, today is your day. Claim it.... But this is just step No. 1. You have to follow through."
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) has said that he hopes that the job fairs and town hall meetings will force Congress and the White House to recognize that at nearly double the national rate, unemployment in Black communities has reached crisis level and encourage them to do more to reduce it. The group has introduced more than 40 bills that specifically target Black unemployment, but the Republican-controlled House will not likely consider them. In addition, members have grown increasingly frustrated with President Obama and his belief that improving the overall economy will help African-Americans because, he says, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
“The president has one agenda; we have another agenda altogether,” Cleaver said in an MSNBC interview on Monday. “We think we can get about 10,000 jobs in our five-city stop. And if you consider the fact that we have 15 million people without jobs, that may not sound like a lot of jobs, but that’s 10,000 people who didn’t have jobs that we’ve been able to get corporations to open their doors for.”
Black communities have been among the hardest hit by the recession, where the unemployment rate in July was 15.9 percent. In addition, a recent Pew Research Center report found that between 2007 and 2009, Black wealth had been reduced by about 50 percent, leaving many households that had little to begin with rudderless. Obama received 96 percent of the African-American vote in 2008, but some analysts are predicting that their enthusiasm may wane in 2012 if their economic prospects have not improved.
"Putting Americans back to work and growing the economy is a priority we all share and I applaud the efforts by members of the Congressional Black Caucus to connect employers with people who need help the most in underserved communities," said the president in a statement issued Monday night.
The second job fair–town hall event will take place on August 16 in Michigan.