By Rep. Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
WASHINGTON - Even without the monthly unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statics, it is obvious that too many Americans are hurting.
From the grocers who see the unusual rush of families buying food at midnight because that is the very first moment when their nutrition assistance is available to employers who see overwhelming numbers of applications for any job listing, people all across this country know that their friends and neighbors are struggling.
And each month we are reminded by hard data, what we already know, just how bad the economy is for millions of Americans who are struggling to pay the rent and feed their families. The latest figures show overall unemployment at 9.6 percent, while African Americans and Latinos are out of work at the unbearably high rate of 16.1 and 12.4 percent, respectively. When we take into account those who have stopped seeking work or aren’t working as much as they would like, it is clear that the economic crisis gripping households across America is that much more devastating.
Our government has a responsibility to empower and protect the American people and we can do that right now by creating jobs. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are working hard to do just that, but we need people like you to join forces with us to reignite the movement of change that elected President Obama two years ago.
When our economy sank into recession some communities fell faster and farther than others. While there are clear signs that the economy is on the road to recovery, there is ample evidence that many communities continue to lag behind. Not only are African Americans unemployed at higher rates than every other segment of the population, but we also tend to be unemployed and underemployed for longer periods.
In line with its 40-year focus, for much of the past two years, the Congressional Black Caucus has been—and continues to be—laser focused on creating jobs and stimulating the economy. To that end, we have worked with the Obama administration and Congressional leaders to create an agenda that responds to the needs of the chronically unemployed and underemployed, as well as populations who are living below the poverty line.
In March, the caucus held a hearing that examined the breadth and depth of chronic unemployment in America and explored the policy solutions that would make a difference for those living at the margins of our nation’s economy. After hearing very powerful testimony from an impressive collection of scholars, policy experts and leaders with experience working with people who are chronically unemployed, it was even more evident that direct job creation and worker training and retraining was sorely needed. Direct job creation does more than just give people jobs – it empowers people to provide for themselves and their families and can break the cycle of poverty and unemployment for entire families.
In the months since, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have worked with President Obama and our colleagues in the House of Representatives to craft legislation that will create jobs and put all Americans back to work. The Local Jobs for America Act would help local governments prevent the lay-off of thousands of teachers, police and firefighters. By providing relief to local governments, not only do we maintain the vital role that these Americans play in our local communities, but we in turn stimulate the local economies in which they work.
We also fought for youth employment opportunities to empower our young people so that they can still access the essential jobs and life skills that a summer job provides, and for far too many children, even help pay the rent and put food on the table. We fought to expand career training programs and to restore the flow of credit to enable small businesses to expand and hire new workers.
We have had many successes in the House of Representatives, however, our efforts have run into a roadblock—the unified obstructionism of Republicans in the United States Senate. In the House, we have passed legislation that will stimulate the economy and create jobs that President Obama will sign. Yet a handful of Republican Senators will not get out of the way of an American recovery.
I cannot understand how these Republican Senators, many with unemployment in their home states far exceeding the national rate, remain unwilling to pass legislation that will create jobs for people who need them the most. It is even more perplexing that these same Republican Senators are more concerned with giving tax cuts to the wealthy and protecting tax loopholes for corporations and oil companies, while ignoring the pressing needs of unemployed and underemployed Americans at the margins of our economy.
We have and will continue to fight, but we can’t do this alone. We need you to unleash your power by holding your elected officials feet to the fire to remind them to support funding and legislative priorities of this administration and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. When you cast your historic vote for Barack Obama, you not only gave this nation an historic opportunity for positive change, but you also took responsibility for pushing forward the bold agenda for change that this country so desperately needs. If your elected officials don’t put jobs front and center in their agenda, then remind them that you can unleash your power and vote to defeat them at the ballot box.
Stand with President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus. Others want to take the country back – we need to have President Obama’s back. There are many conservative activists who are doing their best to halt the progress we’ve made and even turn back the clock. The only way we can succeed and continue to implement a positive progressive agenda is by standing together as a strong community. The stakes are too high and consequences are too great for your voice not to be heard.
--- Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) of the Ninth Congressional District of California is also the Chair of the 42 member Congressional Black Caucus.