by Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League
Nearly 2 million jobs have been lost so far this year. The overall unemployment rate has now reached 6.7 percent, and African American unemployment has risen to 11.2 percent. Some economic experts are forecasting that if this trend continues, the unemployment rate will be least 9 percent by the end of next year.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, that could mean unemployment rates as high as 8 percent for whites, 17 percent for African Americans and 12.5 percent for Hispanics. Clearly, we have not seen the promised benefits of the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street. Main Street and urban America need action now.
For months we have been calling for an economic stimulus plan that includes an immediate extension of unemployment benefits, more help to states for infrastructure projects, a greater investment in summer jobs for at-risk youth, job training for disadvantaged workers, help for the stalled-out auto industry and the possible creation of a temporary public service program similar to the one that generated more than 100,000 jobs during the recession of 1974-75.
We agree with President-elect Obama, the nation’s governors and mayors and a growing number of leading economists that the centerpiece of a job-focused recovery plan must be substantial investments in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and shifting to a greener, more energy efficient and energy independent economy. We know this will work.
One Department of Transportation study found that for every $1 billion in investment, 48,000 jobs are created in one year. Without these much needed investments in infrastructure, many inner city communities are doomed to continue the cycle of joblessness and poverty. It is imperative that when we go to work rebuilding America, those who live in urban America are not left behind.
“We are calling on Congress to act quickly on an economic recovery bill that would immediately put Americans back to work. Our country demands it,” Morial concluded.
It is imperative that when we go to work rebuilding America, those who live in urban America are not left behind.
The National Urban League is urging Congress to specifically address the needs of disadvantaged workers through its seven-point plan:
Proposals for fiscal stimulus job creation
Congress must specifically address the needs of disadvantaged workers by including the following components in its economic recovery and jobs package:
1. Fund proven and successful models of workforce training and job placement like the Urban League’s very successful Urban Youth Empowerment Program. This can be done by increasing funding for the “Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders” program in the Department of Labor. By making use of existing programs, Congress assures the timely expenditure of funds to educate, train and reintegrate workers between the ages of 16-30 who are under-skilled. This program is already authorized and allows funding for national intermediary organizations that serve chronically disadvantaged populations.
The National Urban League urges Congress to appropriate funds to initiate a competitive grant program targeting national intermediary community based organizations with demonstrated capacity and a proven track record of effectiveness in training young ex-offenders and dropouts to reenter the workplace. The country cannot afford to fund only state and local governments as a means of job training and job creation.
Often it takes months and even years for these dollars to hit the streets after federal and local RFPs are issued. The processes for the deployment of funds at the state and local level are by necessity long and deliberative, thus undercutting the requirement of timeliness which is so essential to the success of a stimulus package. Congress should explicitly utilize non-profit national intermediaries, including national minority non-profit intermediaries to insure the timely delivery of these services to this targeted population.
2. Congress must fund the Summer Youth Employment Program at a level of $3 billion to put 2.5 million teenagers to work next summer.
3. If Congress is going to fund infrastructure improvements, then the workforce investment dollars should be targeted to the construction industry jobs that an infrastructure program will create. If the goal is to reignite the construction industry, then Congress should fund pre-apprenticeship programs in that sector in order to benefit disadvantaged workers. These pre-apprenticeship programs can be targeted to the type of Green Jobs championed by President-elect Obama.
4. Any infrastructure plan should include more than roads, highways, bridges and levees. It should also mean money for public building construction and renovations of schools, community centers, libraries, recreation centers, parks etc. Funding infrastructure of this type can be accomplished by increasing funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) public facilities program that is authorized under existing law that allows for construction of public facilities and improvements for eligible purposes by municipal governments.
5. A percentage of all infrastructure monies should be directed to job training, job placement and job preparation for disadvantaged workers. Unless Congress specifically targets this population in its legislation, these individuals are unlikely to be hired and helped.
6. Congress must fund a temporary Public Service Employment (PSE) program aimed at creating 150,000 to 200,000 jobs in urban areas. Without this action, growing budget deficits in America’s cities will mean a reduction in public services and, along with it, more loss of jobs.
The precedent for such a program is The Emergency Jobs and Unemployment Assistance Act of 1974 which established Title VI of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) as a temporary countercyclical program of public service employment. By June of 1975, this program was responsible for providing jobs for 155,000 people.*
Two years later, President Carter’s 1977 economic stimulus package added $4 billion for PSE to the fiscal year 1978 budget, resulting in jobs for 10 percent of all unemployed persons in the labor force.* A field evaluation of PSE programs revealed that roughly 85 percent of PSE jobs represented new job creation as opposed to job displacement and, for every 100 PSE dollars, 86 went to directly stimulating the economy through paying salaries.*
Though the program was initially intended to combat cyclical employment, research indicates that in many jurisdictions, the program showed potential for alleviating structural employment.* PSE workers were also found to provide important primary services to local communities.* The majority of jobs created were lower-skilled, making them accessible to urban youth and others with less education.
7. Congress must include provisions that establish and reinforce goals which ensure that Minority Business Entrepreneurs and Women-owned Business Enterprises participate fully in contract opportunities created by the infrastructure improvement plan and the overall Economic Recovery Plan.
The National Urban League’s entire Economic Recovery Plan can be viewed and downloaded at www.nul.org.
The National Urban League’s Economic Recovery plan was authored by Dr. Bernard Anderson, economist and former professor of management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and Valerie Rawlston Wilson, economist and senior resident scholar at the National Urban League Policy Institute. Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, and Stephanie Jones, executive director, National Urban League Policy Institute also served as collaborators and co-authors.
Established in 1910, the National Urban League, www.nul.org, is the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream. There are more than 100 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 35 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy and research. Contact NUL at National Urban League, 120 Wall St., 8th Floor, New York, NY 10005 or (212) 558-5300.
* Nathan, Richard P., et al. “Public Service Employment: A Field Evaluation” (Brookings Institution, 1981).