Commentary by Marc H. Morial, President National Urban League
NEW YORK - In the great tradition of America’s global defense of democracy, our nation has now entered another foreign conflict to protect and improve the lives of innocent civilians. While we applaud the inclination to rescue people in peril around the world, we wonder why that same urgency does not seem to apply to the millions of urban Americans still in the grips of the great recession who have been anxiously waiting for the United States to declare war on unemployment.
For the past several years, the National Urban League has been leading the call for action. With our current 12-point Jobs Rebuild America Blueprint, we have even offered Washington a winnable war plan, complete with a regime change strategy that will remove the scourge of high unemployment from our communities and replace it with a new era of jobs and opportunity. We will again put that strategy in the hands of White House and Congressional leaders during our State of Black America Legislative Policy Conference in Washington this week.
As the former mayor of New Orleans, I know that many lives can be lost waiting for the federal government to respond to a national crisis. And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t get reports from our Urban League affiliates on the front line of the jobs crisis about the direct and collateral damage double-digit unemployment is inflicting on urban families throughout the country. That is why I am encouraged by the pro-active action of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who has developed his own war plan to defeat the tyranny of joblessness in his city.
Congressman Cleaver, who hails from Langston Hughes’ childhood home of Kansas City, Missouri, and who is also the newly elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been the driving force behind that city’s promising Green Impact Zone. His plan echoes many of the elements of the National Urban League’s call for national Green Empowerment Zones to attract investment and green jobs to neighborhoods with disproportionately high unemployment rates.
According to Congressman Cleaver, “Approximately 25 percent of the properties in the zone are vacant lots, and another one-sixth have vacant structures. Fewer than half of the homes are owner-occupied. Over the last two years, almost 20 percent of all mortgages were delinquent and median home prices for the area are less than $30,000.”
The mission of the Zone is use to use a comprehensive green strategy with intense resident engagement to more rapidly push community change and create jobs. Established with Stimulus seed money, Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone is being sustained with private-public investments in reduced energy consumption, low-income weatherization, transportation and infrastructure improvements, youth mentoring and job training with guaranteed employment upon completion. Together with the Entrepreneurship Center at the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, led by President and CEO Gwendolyn Grant, hundreds of sustainable jobs have been created as part of the project with many more to come.
Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone is paving the way for the rebirth of a neglected neighborhood and is proving to be a powerful weapon in Kansas City’s war on unemployment. We applaud Congressman Emanuel Cleaver for his leadership and urge Washington and the rest of the nation to follow his lead.