As Congress and the nation focus on the passage of comprehensive health care reform, the latest job numbers show that our economy also remains in bad health.
And while overall unemployment is now at 10.2 percent, African-American joblessness has reached a 28-year high of 15.7 percent, compared with 13.1 percent for Latinos and 9.5 percent for whites.
Black unemployment has risen to over 20 percent in states like Michigan and South Carolina. There are now more than 15.7 million Americans out of work and virtually every sector, from construction to retail, is hemorrhaging jobs. Clearly, while our overall economy is sick, Black America is on life support. That is why the National Urban League is adding its voice to those in Congress and the civil rights community who are demanding that the White House take immediate action to create jobs and ensure that the economic recovery extends all the way from Wall Street to Main Street.
The first phase of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill has provided needed tax relief to homebuyers and businesses and extended benefits to unemployed workers. But, we must do more to create jobs and stem the rising tide of unemployment, especially in hard-pressed urban communities.
That means more focused spending on urban construction projects, greater relief for cities and states to prevent more layoffs and the possible creation of a direct government jobs program targeted to communities most in need. We are pleased that the Obama Administration will convene a “jobs summit” next month to consider these and other options.
But, even with friends in the White House and overwhelming support for progressive urban policies in Congress, there is still a need for the same kind of focused effort from the civil rights community that has taken us to the brink of historic health care reform. Government can’t do this job alone. That’s why I was pleased to announce last week that the National Urban League has teamed up with On-Deck Capital, a leading small business financial specialist, to provide loans to minority businesses that are struggling to fulfill their mission as engines of job creation in urban communities. The program will kick-off in Philadelphia and Los Angeles and will expand to other major urban centers in the coming months.
We are also joining forces with the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Council of La Raza and others who are urging Washington to take action now to address chronic African-American and Latino unemployment. As Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference recently said, “Make no mistake, for us this is the civil rights issue of the moment. Unless we resolve the national job crisis, it will make it hard to address all of our other priorities.”
Working together, the civil rights community has recently won a number of crucial battles – from the election of the nation’s first Black president to a new hate crimes law to unprecedented progress on health care reform. We are now engaged in a unified campaign to bring jobs and hope back to our communities. We must and we intend to win again.
Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.