Slowly but surely, the economy is improving. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private sector created 244,000 new jobs in April—and more than 800,000 since the beginning of the year. That’s great news. But this positive job growth has largely bypassed urban communities.
Joblessness among African Americans remains stubbornly high: 16 percent compared to 8 percent among whites. Black youth are particularly hard hit in this recession. More than 40 percent of them are unemployed, according to the bureau’s figures.
There are numerous reasons—including hiring discrimination—for this crisis. But let’s not overlook the fact that many African American youth are not prepared to compete in the job market. The high school dropout rate in black communities is at crisis level, and many lack basic job and interpersonal skills that would make them employable.
While government doesn’t have all the solutions, it does have the means of empowerment. One example is the Urban Jobs Act, introduced by Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) in February. This important measure would establish an Urban Jobs Program and allocate $20 million in federal grants to the National Urban League in Fiscal Year 2012.
Through its affiliates, located in 36 states and the District of Columbia, the National Urban League already provides job training and other comprehensive services to prepare at-risk youth to enter the work force.
The Urban Jobs Act directs the organization to provide services to eligible individuals ages 18-24 in four specific areas: education (including GED preparation), employment readiness, comprehensive supportive services (such as childcare and interpersonal skills training) and case management.
“Unemployment among urban youth has been neglected for too long,” says Towns. “It’s urgent that Congress immediately address this situation that continues to negatively impact young adults and their children, as well as communities.”
So far, 14 House Democrats co-sponsored Towns’ bill (H.R. 683), which is currently in the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. And on May 6, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a version of the Urban Jobs Act in the Senate. But with Republicans now in charge, the Urban Jobs Act has an uncertain future in the House.
“After four months of controlling the House, the Republican leadership has not considered or introduced one, single jobs bill,” said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement. “Instead, they continue to cut funding to critical programs that directly and negatively impact our country’s most vulnerable communities, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
On May 12, President Obama met with CBC members to discuss job creation and economic growth. At the meeting, Mr. Obama highlighted his administration’s efforts, such as the public-private partnership to publicize job opportunities for low-income youth on www.dol.gov/summerjobs.
Towns welcomed Obama’s attention to the unemployment crisis in the nation’s urban communities. “It will take a concerted effort from government, community partners and the individuals we seek to help to reduce joblessness,” he said. “My bill is one part of the overall solution.”