‘Focus on jobs, jobs and more jobs’

Congress and the president must take swift and bold steps to stop the jobs crisis in this country, a coalition of labor and civil rights organizations told reporters on a conference call Feb. 19th. The meeting with the press coincided with the release of a letter to congressional leaders in both houses urging immediate action to extend unemployment benefits, new investments in job creation, new funds to stabilize state and local budgets and new action to stem the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

“We’ve got to focus on jobs, jobs and more jobs,” Richard Trumka, president of the 11 million member AFL-CIO, told reporters. “There is no economic recovery without serious job creation.”

“We need 10 million jobs,” he added. “And Wall Street and the rich who have benefited for years from Bush’s economic policies and his $1.2 trillion tax cut need to pay to rebuild the economy and the middle class that they destroyed.”

Speaking on behalf of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, that organization’s CEO Wade Henderson explained that “high and lingering unemployment, particularly among young workers, low-income workers and workers of color, is straining families to the breaking point and decimating whole communities.”

“The pace of the recovery is not fast enough to sustain our growing work force,” he added. Congress and the President have a “moral imperative” to “take bold, meaningful action to make sure our nation’s working families survive this crisis and to create jobs now.”

NAACP President Ben Jealous agreed that immediate action proportionate to the size of the problem is needed. “When the people hear that this crisis is second only to the Great Depression, they want to see responses second only to the WPA, second only to what Roosevelt and that Congress pushed through to save the future for our people,” he said.

Jealous added that persistent inequalities by race require specific responses for communities of color. “It’s not enough to rescue Main Street, we also have to fix Back Street,” he stated.

“Black folks in this country are hurting right now, but the reality is that we were hurting two years ago; we were hurting three years ago,” he noted. The boats lifted by the tide of recovery should also include African Americans.

Jealous urged that employment opportunities under the recovery act be made available in all communities. He added that bankruptcy reform that allows home owners to renegotiate lower payments and to keep their homes, a so-called cram-down approach, has to a part of the agenda.

While all Americans are suffering in this recession, “the suffering is more profound for millions of Latino workers,” added Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza. “One year after President Obama signed the Recovery Act, the unemployment rate for Latino people is 12.6 percent, nearly three points higher than the for the nation overall.”

The recession has impacted Latino workers in very direct ways, she added. In construction where Latinos have high rates of representation, one in five workers is out of a job. Most Latinos live in the states with the highest budget deficits and the biggest cuts in public services on the horizon.

Because of high rates of unemployment, the loss of incomes and the housing crisis, Murguia estimated that about 1.3 million Latinos could lose their homes this year and next, unless immediate action to prevent this is taken.

Almost 2 million Black and Latino workers have lost their jobs since the recession began, she indicated.

“Latino voters are just as fed up as other Americans with the lackluster response from Washington,” Murguia explained. “Unfortunately the current jobs plans in Washington continue to ignore these disparities and the concerns of Latino voters and bypass the hardest hit communities.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, pointed out that there is a jobs crisis in the US not a short-term budget deficit crisis. “Working families are hurting, they’re angry and they’re demanding to see results from Washington.”

“While millions are out of work, some in Congress are hoping things are getting better,” Trumka stated. “Genuine leaders know when to step back and when to step up. Now is the time to step up.”

Trumka also pointed out that 6 million unemployed workers who right now rely on unemployment insurance and COBRA will lose those benefits at the end of this month if Congress fails to act to extend those benefits.

Trumka expressed support for the $15 billion Senate jobs bill, but added that it simply isn’t large enough to create enough jobs to cover the unemployed. The bill should be closer to the jobs bill passed in the House last fall, he said.

He stated that the AFL-CIO is organizing meetings around the country with members of Congress and workers. He urged workers to call Congress and tell them to act immediately on a scale necessary to provide real recovery for working families.

Part of the Jobs for America Now coalition, the organizations that convened the press conference included the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Center for Community Change and the Economic Policy Institute. Twenty-five organizations signed the letter to congressional leaders calling for bolder step.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/ / CC BY 2.0


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).