During a frank and open discussion about African-American unemployment, a panel of leaders offered their assessments about why it is so bleak and how the American Jobs Act introduced by President Obama last week might address it.
Too many African-Americans need not look past their neighbor’s door or even in the mirror to understand unemployment’s devastating impact the Black community, said former Labor secretary Alexis Herman, who moderated the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s national town hall meeting Thursday morning. For them, she said, finding a job is about dignity as well as income.
When asked how the American Jobs Act would impact African-Americans, CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) praised elements of the bill, such as the payroll tax holiday and a measure to address Black teen unemployment. Marc Morial, who heads the National Urban League, however, had a much more impassioned response.
Morial said that the bill makes some good first steps, but it needs to go a lot further to significantly aid African-Americans. Infrastructure funding, he said, shouldn’t be limited to schools and transportation, but also expanded to include projects like community centers and libraries, “because the closer the construction job is to the community, the more likely it is that the people in the community are going to have that work.”
Citing a provision in the bill that would hire unemployed workers to refurbish foreclosed properties, he said it should also include a job-training component and warned against funneling all of the funding for this and other measures through state legislatures so that the benefits don’t bypass urban communities.
“This is a fight. We have to advocate for a plan that doesn’t bypass our community. We need to support this plan, push to improve it, push to expand it and say to anyone who opposes it, ‘Where is your plan?’” Morial said.
The unflappable Maxine Waters, who chairs the CBC’s jobs taskforce, said that when lawmakers returned to Washington after their August recess, six Republicans approached her to say that until they’d seen news reports about the tour, they had no idea that Black unemployment was so dire. She attributed the jobs bill in part to the caucus’ dogged determination, and joked that when Obama said “disadvantaged” when unveiling the bill, “I know he meant Black.”
“We’re pleased that the president has a jobs proposal,” Waters added. “Now, we’ve got to trace it and we’ve got to track it because strange things happen in the legislative process. We don’t want this to end up being just a tax-cut bill only.”
Echoing Morial’s sentiments, Waters said that African-Americans must fight to ensure that state governments and big companies don’t hijack most of the funding in the jobs bill as they did with the stimulus package, so that resources in the bill target their communities.
“We’ve got to show up. The Tea Party shows up and has intimidated everybody. We have to show people that we have no fear,” she said to cheers from the audience. “We cannot be afraid to talk. I love the president, but I will ask the president, ‘Where’s the money? Where is it going? What is happening to it? How can we get a piece of the action?’”
(Photo: AP/Rogelio V. Solis)