There's an old saying: "Don't bring a slingshot to a gunfight." But that's just what the Congress appears to be doing with its timid approach to job creation. Last week, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing a $15 billion jobs bill that would hardly make a dent in the depression-era levels of unemployment afflicting all parts of the country, especially communities of color.
The latest employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are being hailed in some quarters as a clear sign that the recession is over. Tell that to the 15 million Americans who remain out of work or the untold numbers of families teetering on the brink of financial ruin.
While the overall jobless rate remained steady in February at 9.7 percent, African American unemployment is now at 15.8 percent, a 6.8 percent increase since the start of the recession in December, 2007. The Hispanic jobless rate of 12.4 percent was virtually unchanged from January. And when you factor in the huge number of people who have stopped looking for work and those who are working part-time only because they can't find a full-time job, the total "underemployment" rate has climbed to a staggering 16.8 percent. Another 36,000 jobs were lost during the month, a number that was lower than expected, but still intolerably high. It is abundantly clear - the great recession rages on.
So what does the Congress do in the face of this crisis? The House passed a scaled-back $15 billion Senate jobs bill that gives tax breaks to businesses to hire new workers and includes some needed investments in infrastructure projects. Most analysts say this will create only a few hundred thousand jobs at a time when 10 million jobs are needed just to get back to pre-recession levels. That's why a majority of Congressional Black Caucus members, led by Chairwoman Barbara Lee of California, voted against the measure. And it is why the National Urban League is calling on the Congress to go back and get it right.
Last November, the National Urban League presented the White House and Congressional leaders a robust six-point plan for putting Americans Back to Work. Our plan places a priority on help for the chronically unemployed which includes African Americans and other communities of color experiencing unemployment rates significantly higher than the national average. It would create 3 million jobs. We are recommending that future legislation include:
• Funding direct job creation
• Expansion and acceleration of the Small Business Administration's Community Express Loan Program and inclusion of minority contractors for transportation projects funded through the stimulus bill
• The creation of Green Empowerment Zones
• The Expansion of housing counseling programs nationwide
• The Expansion of the Youth Summer Jobs Program for 2010
• The creation of 100 urban job academies to implement and expand the Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP)
The so-called "jobs bill" as it currently stands is a tiny, timid step when what we need is a giant, bold leap. It may be good politics, but its bad policy.