By Seth Michaels
This week at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other leaders joined together to call for urgent action to create jobs and rebuild the economy.
In a live webcast panel discussion, the consensus was clear: Without quick action, an entire generation could be mired in economic turmoil. The nation can, and must, put people back to work—while addressing critical needs for the future of our communities.
The scale of the jobs crisis is obvious: Since the beginning of the recession, more than 8 million jobs have been lost. The official unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, with more than 26 million unemployed or underemployed. These figures are even more severe among African American and Latino communities. Young people are at risk of permanently stunted opportunity, and the jobs crisis is rebounding throughout the country with increased hunger and poverty, massive numbers of home foreclosures and diminished access to health care.
In addition to Trumka, participants in the discussion included NAACP President Benjamin Jealous; National Council of La Raza (NCLR) President Janet Murguia; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President (LCCR) Wade Henderson; and Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change. EPI President Larry Mishel moderated the conversation, which Jealous called the beginning of a national human rights movement for economic opportunity.
Trumka laid out five critical points that must underlie a new jobs agenda:
1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers.
2. Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems.
3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services.
4. Fund jobs in our communities.
5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street.
Trumka said that the coalition will push the White House and Congress to act on these recommendations immediately, starting at President Barack Obama’s Dec. 3 Jobs Summit.
“We cannot afford to do nothing,”Trumka said, “and we can’t afford to go back to an economy built on stagnant wages, inequality and consumer debt. We need to create good jobs that support families and communities.”
Henderson said the nation’s jobs crisis requires urgent attention—because it’s not just an economic imperative to put people to work, it’s a moral responsibility:
“Make no mistake, for us this is the civil rights issue of the moment,” Henderson said. “Unless we resolve the national job crisis, it will make it hard to address all of our other priorities.”
Murguia added that we need specific programs to make sure that all communities, especially those that have been disadvantaged, get the opportunities, training and assistance they need.
“There are people who need work in our communities and there is work to be done rebuilding the country,” Bhargava said. “By investing now, we can make real, needed improvements and we can give people the jobs they need.”
But to do that, Bhargava said, we need to break through the “shell of complacency” around too many legislators in Washington. We need to organize communities around an economic agenda that really helps them.
All of the leaders present affirmed their commitment to building grassroots pressure on Congress to act now on job creation. Families across the country know we need solutions that are at the scale of the serious problems we’re facing and, Trumka said, they will be looking to see whether lawmakers are listening to them or just acting on behalf of Wall Street.
Trumka criticized the fact that small minorities in the Senate can hold America hostage by blocking much-needed change and promised that union members and Working America members would fight hard against elected officials who are obstructing progress.
The way things are is not the way they have to be, Trumka said. “We need action now to create jobs, and we have the resources to do it,” the AFL-CIO leader said.