WASHINGTON - Warning that the economic recovery, so far, has been "jobless," a coalition of 60 labor, civil rights and community organizations launched a campaign Dec. 16 to pressure Congress to "put America back to work" by passing legislation that creates millions of living-wage jobs.
The coalition, Jobs for America Now, announced it will launch grassroots actions in all 50 states starting immediately. Speaking at a Washington news conference, coalition leaders unveiled a five-point jobs plan including expansion of unemployment benefits, COBRA and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Another demand is fiscal relief to state and local governments, as well as jobs programs "that put people to work helping communities that face severe unemployment."
The plan also demands funding to build or repair "schools, transportation, and energy efficiency, thus providing jobs in the short run and productivity enhancements in the longer run."
The coalition is also pushing for federal assistance to small and medium-sized businesses for "private-sector job growth."
Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, said, "Joblessness is a scourge. It destroys families, demeans its victims. A jobless recovery is an oxymoron - there can be no recovery without people going back to work. This must be the first priority of the administration and the Congress."
Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said, "With a double-digit unemployment rate and nearly 16 million Americans looking for work, we should take decisive action as quickly as possible to create jobs."
As if anticipating the coalition's demands, the House by a razor-thin margin of 217 to 212 approved a $154 billion jobs bill Dec. 16 that includes $27.5 billion for highway construction and repair and $39.5 billion for infrastructure and repair. Half the cost is covered from TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Project) bailout funds that banks are paying back to the federal government.
More than 30 Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the jobs package. They apparently were panicked by Republican fearmongering on federal deficits in an election year.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where the lawmakers are even more fearful of Republican scare tactics on the deficits.
But Borosage had a sharp rejoinder. "Budget deficits should not stand in the way," he said. "In fact, there is no way to get to a balanced budget without putting people back to work. There is work to be done and people in need of work. It is time for the Congress to step up."
Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff of the AFL-CIO, warned that the federal programs "must be on a scale to match this crisis." This reflects the widespread belief that President Obama's first economic stimulus package, $787 billion, while a step in the right direction, was far too small to stop unemployment from skyrocketing. The official unemployment rate is now 10.2 percent and rising.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, said, "When America gets a cold, African Americans get pneumonia. Our communities are disproportionately suffering from this recession. Job creation has got to be the number one job of Congress right now."
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights group, said Latino workers "are ready to work hard out of this recession. But without a specific plan to address the jobs crisis in communities of color, the administration's response will be insufficient to bring about the economic recovery. The president and Congress must put equity and fairness at the center of any new jobs initiative."
Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said single mothers are the hardest hit. "More than one in every three female-headed families with children was living in poverty last year ... the highest number in a decade." Any economic recovery program must provide jobs and income for these women and their children, she said.
Alan Charney, program director of USAction, and the interim campaign manager of the new Jobs for America Now coalition, said, "The progressive community is uniting behind a broad jobs program ... to create a strong campaign for 2010."