By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
“The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed.” President Barack Obama
This past weekend, the nation paused to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9-11. Many suggested that a focus on the spirit of unity and selfless sacrifice that characterized America’s response to that day, would change the mood of the country and make it easier for Congress and the President to come together to solve big problems – none more urgent than the jobs crisis. The mostly thoughtful reaction to President Obama’s jobs speech last Thursday before a joint session of Congress is the first indication in months that the tide of blind obstructionist may be receding.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have said that some of the President’s proposals deserve serious consideration. That is encouraging. But there is a big difference between obstructionism and constructive criticism. And while, we found much to like in the President’s speech (extension of unemployment benefits, modernizing schools, tax cuts for small businesses, a payroll tax cut), we believe it should be modified to include more specific measures to address the unemployment crisis in many urban communities of color where jobless rates are more than double the national average.
We were especially pleased that the President included three components of the National Urban League’s 12-point jobs plan in the outline of his “American Jobs Act.” The President endorsed a summer jobs program for youth, an infrastructure bank, and direct job creation, all of which I have personally advocated during meetings in the Oval Office in February of last year and July of this year. But improvements are needed.
An infrastructure bank has enormous potential to stimulate the economy and put Americans to work, but with so many people out of work and so many infrastructure improvements needed, the program needs to include more than roads and bridges. We also need to build schools, community centers, libraries, and – especially relevant during this time of harsh weather – storm sewers and flood control projects.
The President proposed direct funding to employ teachers and first responders. That is good, but the plan could be expanded to include other state and municipal workers. And funding should be provided directly to municipalities rather than through the states. We should take a lesson from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and distribute resources directly to the communities that are hardest hit by unemployment.
Similarly, funding for summer jobs should be directed to the national community-based organizations that have a proven track record in job training.
While we recognize the limitations imposed on the President by a hotly divided Congress, the unemployment crisis is now so dire that he needs to pull out every stop. With 14 million Americans unemployed, and the jobless rate at 16.7 percent in Black America, we must wage the war on unemployment with every weapon at our disposal.
I look forward to working with the White House and Congress to guarantee that the American Jobs Act provides the type of targeted solutions that ensure that urban communities are not left by the wayside for a second time.