The following statement is from Marc H. Morial, President, National Urban League:
“Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is a fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last Monday, the nation celebrated what would have been the 82nd birthday of the 20th century’s great drum major for justice, Dr; Martin Luther King. Dr. King understood that economic justice was the most crucial question confronting Black people, as well as poor and middle class people generally throughout America. In fact, at his death, he was on the brink of launching a nationwide campaign for jobs and income.
As, America enters the second decade of a new millennium, and the National Urban League begins its second century, our organization is introducing a new blueprint for achieving that goal.
The nation remains mired in a great recession. The National Urban League has seen the impact of this crisis first-hand. Our more than 100 local affiliates across the country are economic first-responders in the ongoing effort to help ease the burden of those most profoundly affected by this recession, serving some 2.1 million citizens in 2010 alone.
Over the past two years, much of the work of the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress has been nothing short of heroic. From the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the extension of middle class tax relief and unemployment benefits, the Administration has taken historic actions to restore America’s economic vitality.
But the persistent nature of the recession has brought little relief to families either out of work or stretching part-time wages to meet full-time financial commitments. Record numbers of Americans were forced into foreclosure in 2010, and many urban families in communities already long beset by economic stagnation are enduring unemployment rates as high as 20%.
That is why the National Urban League is proposing a new 12-point Blueprint for Quality Job Creation. Our plan offers a dozen dynamic and imaginative measures to both rescue those most profoundly affected by the ongoing economic emergency, while also remedying many of the underlying causes behind the recession’s inordinate and seemingly-amplified impact on the communities we serve:
1. Restore the Summer Youth Jobs Program as a Stand-Alone Program Employing 5 million Teens in Summer 2011 through a new investment of $5-7 billion. Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the summer jobs program lost its status as a stand-alone program with its own dedicated funding and instead became one of ten programs that states could elect to fund using the WIA funds designated for youth services. In addition, WIA required year-round participation in order for disadvantaged youth to be eligible to participate during the summer. This requirement increased the cost considerably and severely limited the number of participants. Since the changes adopted in WIA became effective in 2000, there has been a dramatic decline in the share of teenagers who are employed over the summer months. According to research by the National Urban League Policy Institute, between 2000 and 2009, the share of teenagers who were employed was down 40 percent for blacks and down 35 percent for whites. Teenage summer labor force participation has also declined dramatically and progressively since 2000 – from 52 percent in the summer of 2000 to 38 percent in the summer of 2009. Even before the curtailing of the dedicated summer jobs funding in 2000, the portion of black teenagers employed during the summer was consistently about 20 percentage points lower than their white counterparts. This is critical to the future of the American workforce because lack of early labor market experience has significant effects on future earnings and productivity.
2. Create 100 Urban Jobs Academies to Implement an Expansion of the Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP) to employ and train the critically unemployed. UYEP, a four-year demonstration project created in partnership with the Department of Labor in 2004, is a youth career preparation initiative designed for at-risk, out-of-school, and adjudicated youth and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. With 27 National Urban League affiliate sites and a total of $29.3 million, the program served 3,900 youth, 65% of whom either had job placements (paying an average wage of $9.32/hour) or completed their high school diploma or GED. 200 participants were placed in postsecondary schools or college upon completion of their secondary education. Scaling this program up to 100 sites would increase the program cost to $108.5 million
3. Develop a Dynamic National Public Private Jobs Initiative to Create Jobs and Train Urban Residents and Stimulate Economic Growth in the following areas:
a. Technology and Broadband Jobs - Use unobligated Recovery Act funding to support competitive grants fueling the private creation of Urban Business Incubators, Technology Campuses from dormant industrial sites, and other measures intended to foster targeted and localized small business growth.
b. Health Care Jobs - Use unobligated Healthcare IT funds and realized Medicare savings resulting from the Obama Healthcare Plan to expand efforts to recruit, train, and hire Urban Residents as nurses, physician assistants, etc. Develop a program not unlike the Civilian Conservation Corps aimed at retraining qualified workers while addressing a critical national need in the shortage of trained medical personnel.
c. Manufacturing Jobs- Develop and enforce a “Buy American” Initiative promoting the purchase of American manufactured goods by federal agencies, semi-public transportation authorities, local and state governments. Incentives could include favorable government subsidized financing terms for the purchase of domestically manufactured equipment and vehicles with continued terms of renewal.
d. Urban Transportation/Water, and Community Facilities Infrastructure Jobs - Expand public initiatives in rail projects, urban water systems maintenance and expansion, parks, public buildings, and school buildings in distressed urban communities through shared financing obligations such as the highly popular, recently expired Build America Bond program.
e. Clean Energy Jobs – Encourage investment in clean energy businesses, particularly those that promote alternative energy and energy conservation. Targeted tax inducements for clean energy investment in urban areas, programs encouraging urban building retrofits for improved energy efficiency, measures ensuring the manufacture of clean energy infrastructure in the U.S. and multi-government initiatives to increase the efficiency of regulatory approvals might all prove effective ideas in this area. Ineffective approaches to these issues have proven major impediments to the growth of a vibrant, sustainable clean energy manufacturing and service industry in the U.S. All inducements and reforms must be tightly targeted to benefit urban, underserved communities and be designed with a long-term focus in order to have a material impact on relevant business models.
4. Boost Minority Participation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industries. ICT industries provide one of the most extensive job and entrepreneurship opportunities for black and urban communities. In 2002 only 42,000 minority owned businesses were in the information sector -- one of the lowest levels of minority participation. Triggering minority participation in ICT industries is critical for a robust, long-term recovery. ICT industries can greatly contribute to achieving the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2010 estimate of extra 16.1 million jobs and $2.5 trillion in gross revenues from minority owned businesses. This requires creative and efficient solutions focused on both the skills needed to get ICT industry jobs and facilitating minority entrepreneurship -- lift skills in science, technology, engineering and math, expand low-income programs of the universal service fund to broadband, reform the universal service fund to better target urban areas, adopt national policies on contracting diversity similar to those of state utilities commissions and ensure that minority intermediaries are active participants in the decision making process.
5. Reform, Revise, and Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act to focus on preparing and retraining workers for 21st century jobs by targeting young adults with less than college, as well as high school dropouts and older workers whose jobs were eliminated by the recession.
6. Create Green Empowerment Zones in areas where at least 50% of the population has an unemployment rate that is higher than the state average. Manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines that open plants in high unemployment areas will, for a period of three years, be eligible for a zero federal income tax rate and a zero capital gains tax rate under the condition that they hire at least half of their workforce from the local high unemployment area, and retain those workers for a minimum of three years.
7. Expand Small Business Lending through a series of steps:
a. Reduce SBA Community Express loan interest rate to 1% targeted for business located in areas where local unemployment exceeds the state average
b. Establish an additional New Markets Tax Credits Program, targeted to loan products for small businesses who wish to borrow less than $250,000 for start-up and expansion
c. Establish a new mechanism to enforce MBE/WBE goals on federally funded projects
8. Initiate Tax Reform which reduces across the board rates while substantially eliminating all tax loopholes, deductions and credits. Any remaining deductions and credits must be simplified to make them better targeted and more effective at promoting important social and economic goals, particularly for low-income taxpayers and families with children (See: Bipartisan Policy Center Debt Reduction Task Force report which outlines one possible approach).
9. Establish and Promote Multilateral International Trade Policies that will expand the market for American goods and services to growing and emerging economies around the world; thereby generating increased demand for American exports and creating an environment for increased domestic hiring and economic growth. Trade agreements with foreign countries should be fair and balanced, creating the same opportunities for the entry of American products into overseas markets as afforded to our international competitors. Greater emphasis should also be placed on the elimination of fiscal policies used by foreign governments to artificially drive down the prices of imported goods and services through the intentional undervaluation of their respective currencies. As American households continue to deleverage and increase their savings in response to the consequences of the financial crisis, maximizing our relationships with foreign countries and servicing rapidly emerging markets are critical to stimulating robust economic growth and job creation.
10. Enact the Urban Jobs Act (H.R. 5708) amending the Workforce Investment Act to address the problem of unemployed youth between the ages of 18 to 24 living in urban areas and not enrolled in secondary or post-secondary school. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Labor to make grants to the National Urban League for the purpose of operating an Urban Jobs Program, based on its highly successful Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP). Funds authorized will allow the National Urban League, as an intermediary to its local affiliates, to continue innovative approaches to improving the employment and educational prospects for high school drop-outs, adjudicated youth and youth at risk for gang involvement through a comprehensive set of job training, remedial education services, and mentoring.
11. Create an Urban Homesteading Program as a comprehensive, coordinated approach to create new homeowners by redirecting foreclosed bank owned properties into the hands of middle-class and working class families at low purchase prices and low interest rates. Support the approach with the expansion of Housing Counselors Nationwide through the investment of $500 million in housing counseling agencies that help delinquent borrowers work with loan servicers to secure more affordable mortgages. A recent report by the Urban Institute states that borrowers facing foreclosure are 60% more likely to hold onto their homes if they receive counseling and loan modifications with average monthly payments a mere $454 lower than those who did not see counselors.
12. Fund Direct Job Creation by offering financial support to cities, counties, states, universities, community colleges, and non-profit community based organizations to hire the personnel necessary to provide critical services in communities throughout the nation. Eligibility for support will be based on unemployment rates with a particular focus on the long-term unemployed. At least twice in American history, the government has responded to high rates of unemployment with investment in direct job creation – the 1935 Works Progress Administration, when nearly one-quarter of the labor force was without work, and the Emergency Jobs and Unemployment Assistance Act of 1974, establishing Title IV of CETA as a temporary countercyclical employment program when unemployment was rapidly approaching the 9% level. We are renewing our call for an investment of $150 billion to create 3 million jobs, a number that represents only half of the current unemployed. New investment should feature not only traditional means of direct government funding, but also newer creative measuring design to promote and spur non-profit, university, and community college hiring initiatives, alleviating the strain on federal and local budgets, while stimulating the economy, bolstering local budget revenues and adding to the public good.
We urge the Congress and the White House to adopt these measures without delay.