“Let’s put our people back to work doing the work America needs done.” President Barack Obama
After months of reaching out to the other side to find common ground on the issues of job creation and deficit reduction, President Obama’s speech at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner on September 25th signaled a shift towards a more robust defense of the progressive values he shares with the CBC, the National Urban League and millions of middle class and working class Americans.
The President used the speech to contrast his vision of equal opportunity and shared sacrifice with those in Congress who are only looking out for big business and the wealthy. He also reminded us that despite fierce opposition, his Administration, with the help of the CBC, has accomplished much that has benefitted African Americans. This includes a payroll tax cut; an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit; enactment of the strongest consumer financial protections in history; making college loans more affordable; investments in early childhood education, community colleges and HBCUs; and passage of a health care law that has already resulted in one million more young people having health insurance.
This real progress has largely been drowned out by the loud and raucous partisan opposition that has dominated much of the President’s first term in office. But President Obama also acknowledged that with unemployment approaching 17 percent among African Americans and almost half of African American children living in poverty, much more needs to be done.
The blueprint for the work that lies ahead is contained in his American Jobs Act, which includes a number of measures I have personally pushed for in direct meetings with the President. These include summer jobs for teens, infrastructure investments and direct job creation. The President also shares our belief that funding for these and other provisions in his bill requires that the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations pay their fair share. He said, “Warren Buffet’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffet. A teacher or a nurse or a construction worker making $50,000 a year shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than somebody making $50 million a year. That’s just common sense.” We agree.
And while I support the President’s demand that Congress pass this jobs bill now, I have also urged improvements to ensure that its benefits do not bypass urban communities.
For example, infrastructure spending needs to be expanded beyond schools and transportation to include work on community centers and libraries to bring more jobs to urban neighborhoods. Job training is also needed to prepare more urban residents for work refurbishing foreclosed properties. And funding for these and other projects should be provided directly to municipalities rather than through the states to ensure that communities hardest hit by unemployment are not left behind.
The President’s speech paid homage to the leadership and sacrifices of civil rights legends like Rev. Joseph Lowery and Congressman John Lewis. He urged all of us to follow their example and “press on” for the sake of jobs, equality and our children. I urge him to keep up the pressure and carry that message to every corner of this country.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.