On the streets of Baltimore – and in the halls of Congress – the struggle to rebuild our economy continues, as it must. No other goal touches so many lives.
Americans desperately want to work – an economic and psychological imperative that reveals why the Great Recession, triggered by the policy failures of the last decade, has been so devastating. Yet, we are a determined, proud and hopeful people. Through a series of national initiatives unlike anything this nation has undertaken since the 1960s, we slowly are recovering.

I have often expressed my confidence that our economy will recover. The more basic question, however, is this: “Where will we and our families be when that recovery is completed?”

It is critical that we keep this question in mind.

Recently, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the federal Recovery Act that I supported helped to create up to 2.8 million jobs in the first quarter of 2010 alone – and could create up to 3.7 million American jobs by the end of September 2010. In addition, our Joint Economic Committee has determined that 37 states – including Maryland – experienced private sector job growth in April. Maryland employers added workers for the second consecutive month (an additional 8,200 jobs in April alone and 36,800 more jobs since the beginning of February).

Maryland’s unemployment rate declined to 7.5 percent – its first decline since the recession began. Nearly 12,800 Marylanders found jobs in April; and Baltimore City’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.8 percent, moving out of double-digits for the first time since May 2009. May’s figures also showed promise, and it is fair to conclude that our economy is on the move. However, far too many of our neighbors are still being forced to file unemployment claims.

We must do better, be wiser, and work harder. We must save jobs, create more jobs and care for those who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed. This is why, on May 28, I voted to pass H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act.

H.R. 4213 would support millions of small businesses by restoring their credit; extend tax incentives for American research and development (including clean energy technology); and rebuild America’s infrastructure. The legislation also would extend unemployment benefits until November; as well as provide additional sales tax, property tax and tuition relief for middle class American families.

Disciplined by our commitment to “Pay-Go,” we would pay as we go by closing tax loopholes and enforcing corporate accountability. We have included measures that will limit the ability of corporations to ship jobs overseas and stick American taxpayers with the bill. We also would make Wall Street hedge fund billionaires pay a fair share of our income tax needs and make the oil industry provide sufficient funds to clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Perhaps most important, we would focus the nation’s attention on those Americans who are hurting the most.

The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act includes key provisions that the CBC worked hard to advance. “For more than a year, the Congressional Black Caucus has been focused on jobs, jobs, jobs,” Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., recently declared. “As a result of our engagement with President Obama, House and Senate leadership, committee chairmen and coalition partners, this legislation will create jobs for the Americans who are hurting the most – the chronically unemployed.”

Not the least of these equity measures is a $1 billion commitment to support over 350,000 summer jobs for youth, ages 14 to 24 (an age group burdened with some of the highest unemployment rates), and an additional $2.5 billion in emergency assistance for needy families.

We must remain focused on this critical legislation as it moves to the Senate for further debate and final passage. Then, we must move forward to restore health care benefits for the unemployed and provide further aid to the cash-starved states.

Jobs and vital services are at stake. Our neighbors – and their future – must now become America’s priority.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.