On March 17, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held a hearing to discuss the alarming unemployment rates among African Americans. Many in the hearing said there is funding out there, it’s just not getting to the places that need it most.
“The national recession is certainly not over for mainstream America,” said Mayor Douglass Palmer of Trenton, N.J. “Many in our cities have lost jobs, are under-employed, have never been able to find a job and many are afraid of what lies ahead.”
That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers in attendance, as one by one they made their case to the panelists to create more opportunities in urban areas.
Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, shared a story of various citizens who are currently out of work. He shared a story of a gentleman named Larry, who lost his job.
“It is very difficult to make it in this day and age,” he said. “I have a master’s degree and I lost my six-figure job a few years back. It is very difficult for older workers to get a job as I feel we are discriminated against. I lost my home and I’m working to keep my second home in Chicago. I thank all who have concern for the little man, but we need more than concern. We need action.”
Part of that action is a new Local Jobs for America Act. The bill introduced by Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) would authorize the federal government to give funding directly to cities and municipalities with high unemployment rates. The measure reflects a feeling among many that federal recovery funds never reached these at-risk communities.
“When one of your constituents walks into a federally funded job center 70-90 percent of the jobs that you men help to create they don’t see,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous told the moderators. “They’re not posted because the small businesses and federally funded contractors aren’t required to post them.
“This is about making sure people who are seeking work, are seeing the jobs that their tax dollars are creating.”
Some see the disparity as more than an economic issue and more of a civil rights issue. Rev. Jesse Jackson said much of what’s going on is an abuse of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says that funds provided by taxpayers of all races should not be used in a fashion that discriminates against any of those races.
“There’s something called job and contract discrimination and flat-out race discrimination,” Jackson said. “In most states we have not gotten our share of stimulus money for contracts and jobs because there’s no enforcement of Title VI. Banks were given the money without any obligation or honor to the law.”
The bill would help areas with high unemployment rates such as the District with its rate of 11.9 percent and Baltimore City at 10.5 percent and even Prince George’s County with its jobless rate of 7.2 percent.
“We’re not sure if the formulas would work in our favor, but this would be a huge benefit for the county,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Andrea Harrison. “We’d finally be able to get some of the jobs and tax revenue that many of our surrounding counties enjoy.”
However, Harrison believes the bill would be beneficial to all local jurisdictions that are struggling as she feels the region will be better served if all have the opportunity to work.
“Unemployment numbers are not statistics; they are real people,” she said. The pain is real and we feel it as local officials that hear from our constituents every day.”