Now that President Obama’s highly awaited American Jobs Act has been unveiled, the selling begins. Obama on Friday traveled to Richmond, Virginia, which is in the district represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who likely can be counted on to challenge the administration on several of the bill’s provisions.
But one area on which the two do agree is the dire need to address Black unemployment. In an op-ed in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Cantor said lawmakers “must focus on the long-term unemployed, especially in some minority communities where more than one in four African-Americans are unemployed.” He also hailed a program called “Georgia Works,” on which the president based the “Bridge to Work” portion of his jobs package.
At a reporter roundtable Friday morning, White House National Economic Council Deputy Director Danielle Gray said that with a 16.7 percent Black unemployment rate and more than one million African-Americans who’ve been out of work for more than six months, the president believes the onus is on the lawmakers to do all they can to tackle the problem. She said that the bridge program is an opportunity to match the jobless with prospective employers and to update their resumes, which she said is particularly important, and to get a more recent reference.
Small Business Deputy Administrator Marie Johns said that although many young adults and recent college graduates may not have envisioned themselves out of work, it could be the ideal time for them to start a small business, even though it’s a challenging time. Johns said that her agency is retooling itself to become a stronger business partner by addressing gaps in access to start-up capital and other initiatives.
Part of the president’s jobs proposal calls for the flexibility to allow people with an entrepreneurial spirit to use their unemployment benefits to start a business. As Gray explained, the unemployment insurance would be converted into a stipend that can be used as start-up capital. She said that they also would work with the Department of Labor on the conversion and with SBA programs that are designed to help start-up businesses.
Although some states have implemented similar programs, people often fear that they’ll lose their benefits and eligibility if their entrepreneurial efforts fail, Gray explained. The Obama proposal aims to make it “safe” for people to take advantage of the opportunity.
“There are so many opportunities for small business development in our urban communities. I want to make sure that would-be entrepreneurs know about what the SBA has to offer and how we can help them right now,” said Johns. “And I have a particular focus on young entrepreneurs because we have got to ignite a new generation of entrepreneurs, particularly in our communities. Young people who have great ideas and extremely creative but just haven’t been exposed to entrepreneurship, but with that exposure and the fact that there are resources to help them, I’m confident that we’re going to see some very good results.”
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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