By Marc H. Morial
“It is necessary to reaffirm that employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals. Its primary value is the good of the human person, as it allows the individual to be fully realised…Therefore, it follows that work has not only the economic objective of profit, but above all a purpose that regards man and his dignity. And if there is no work, this dignity is wounded. Indeed, the unemployed and underemployed risk being relegated to the margins of society, becoming victims of social exclusion.”
– Pope Francis, March 20, 2014
Despite the dizzying array of clearance sales and bargains to be found in our nation’s malls and department stores, Labor Day is no creation of our retail industry. It is our nation’s annual tribute to the working class, American worker whose physical, and largely manual labor, built this country’s infrastructure and built a labor movement that spurred social and economic achievements for all American workers – regardless of job sector.
As we celebrate labor and America’s slow but steady climb to newfound economic prosperity during its most sustained period of job creation this century, we discover a dark cloud inside the silver lining of our recovery: the prosperity of the American economy is not being shared equally. Too many people are working harder, but are falling further behind. Too many people remain at the distant margins of the job market – particularly in our communities of color, where unemployment remains at crisis level, even as our economy continues to rebound.
The unemployment rate in our country currently sits at 5.3 percent, its lowest rate since May 2008. But take a deeper dive into those numbers and the tale of two recoveries is clear and unmistakable. While the unemployment rate for Whites is at 4.6 percent, the Hispanic unemployment rate is at 6.8 percent and the Black unemployment rate is 9.1 percent – double that of White job seekers. The unemployment rates for Blacks and Hispanics are nothing if not discouraging and telling. These communities, especially hard hit during the last recession, are not benefiting from our economy’s rebound.
The ability to secure work that provides a fair, living wage – regardless of gender – is an asset to the worker, the worker’s family, neighborhood, community, and ultimately, our nation. We are an immensely stronger America when access to work is not excluded to some, but rather, extended to all.
That is why the National Urban League has proposed a 12-point Blueprint for Quality Job Creation. Our plan offers a dozen dynamic and imaginative measures to benefit those most profoundly affected by recession but left out of the ensuing recovery, while also remedying many of the underlying causes behind the recession’s inordinate and amplified impact on the communities we serve:
• Restore the Summer Youth Jobs Program as a stand-alone program;
• Create 100 Urban Jobs Academies to implement an expansion of the Urban Youth Empowerment Program;
• Develop a dynamic, national public-private jobs initiative to create jobs, train urban residents and stimulate economic growth in the areas of technology and broadband, health care, manufacturing, transportation, public infrastructure and clean energy;
• Boost minority participation in information and communication technology industries;
• Reform, revise and reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act to prepare and retrain workers for 21st century jobs;
• Create Green Empowerment Zones;
• Expand small business lending;
• Initiate tax reform that reduces rates across the board and eliminates tax loopholes;
• Establish and promote multilateral international trade policies that expand the market for American goods and services;
•Enact the Urban Jobs Act (H.R. 5708);
•Expand the hiring of housing counselors nationwide; and
• Fund direct job creation in cities and states.
We continue to urge Congress and the White House to adopt these measures without delay. The standard of living many of us take for granted today was won for us through the determination and organized protests of the American worker. The solidarity of the workers of the past must be reborn in our political discourse today as we collectively strive to open blocked pathways to work, success and the American dream of economic mobility. We must all work together – individuals, politicians and corporations – to ensure the possibility of work for fair wages for all who seek it.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.