The African-American Community Needs A “Jobs Surge”

Isaiah J. Poole

The nation is facing a jobs crisis, but “crisis” doesn’t begin to tell the story in the African-American community. “Five-alarm emergency” comes closer. A report by the Joint Economic Committee released today underscores the severity of African-American unemployment and bolsters the case for a $100 billion jobs bill introduced in the House last week.

That report—which included some heretofore unpublished Labor Department data—helped launch a discussion sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus today on what needs to be done to address chronic unemployment. That report noted some particularly troubling effects of the current recession among African Americans:

  • Nearly one in five African-American men are unemployed.
  • More than two out of five African-American teenagers are unemployed.
  • African-American female heads of households have an unemployment rate of 15 percent.
  • African-Americans with a four-year college degree have an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, nearly twice that of white four-year college graduates.
  • While African Americans are 11.5 percent of the labor force, they are more than 20 percent of those who are unemployed for more than 26 weeks and 22 percent of those who have been unemployed for more than a year.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said that in areas of the “black belt” in the South where he participated in the major civil rights battles of the 1960s, unemployment rates range from 25 percent to 54 percent. “All of those to whom were given new rights have been left in the dark,” he said.

Jackson and other panelists said there were a number of causes, including serious flaws in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that meant that jobs were not created in the areas that needed them most.

For example, nothing in the Recovery Act required businesses receiving stimulus dollars to post available jobs at local job banks, said Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP. Many unemployed people in urban areas had simply no opportunity to apply for jobs that local contractors created with Recovery Act dollars, he said.

Douglas Palmer, the mayor of Trenton, N.J., said that the Recovery Act relied too heavily on state governments, which too often did not target funds to hard-pressed urban areas. “The money did not get to the local communities,” he said.

Most of the participants embraced the Local Jobs for America Act, sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., as the right short-term response to the jobs emergency plaguing African-American communities.

That legislation would funnel money directly to communities, based on existing aid formulas, to either create or save public service jobs in government agencies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector. These jobs would be full-time, permanent jobs that would usually come with health care and other benefits.

“Direct job creation is the most efficient and most cost-effective way to create jobs,” said Deepak Bhargava, director of the Center for Community Change. The Miller jobs mill “is really visionary legislation” that includes targeting to communities that have the greatest need, he said.

“What we face here is not a small-scale problem but a catastrophe, and it requires a massive response,” he said.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said that when he was in a meeting at the White House last week, President Obama expressed confidence that the bill could pass the House, but indicated its passage in the Senate was an open question.

“I saw that as an organizing challenge for you and for me,” Ellison told the audience. He called the Local Jobs for America bill a good piece of legislation, adding, “The energy is there, the verve is there, we’ve got to get behind it and keep the energy moving.”

Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, captured the sense of urgency in his comments.

“The Congress mustered up the political will, and the money, to put a troop surge in Afghanistan. We need a jobs surge in this nation,” he said. “When the financial services was tottering on the brink of collapse, ruin and destruction, this Congress and the executive branch stepped up in record time and committed over a $1 trillion in Congress and the Federal Reserve and the Treasury committed trillions of dollars more, to rescue the financial services industry.

“The people who sit in Kansas City, Richmond, Indianapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia Tallahassee, have witnessed record, sustained action on behalf of banks, in support of a war in Afghanistan, and now I’m here based on the testimony that we’ve collected and I’ve had a chance to look at, they want strong action when it comes to jobs.”

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