The Congressional Black Caucus’ ‘For the People’ Jobs Initiative descended upon Detroit, Michigan, on August 16, a city that arguably has some of the most severe challenges in achieving an economic revival in the face of marked blight, crime, high foreclosure, and an unemployment rate over 20 percent.
The seemingly brittle condition of Detroit, however, seemed to bear semblance to the financial state of the rest of the nation, which was especially grim for African Americans, according to CBC members.
“We are on the edge of a depression in terms of unemployment in the African-American community, “said Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri at a town hall meeting moderated by MSNBC correspondent Jeff Johnson. The meeting was also attended by tour stop hosts U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI), U.S. Rep John Conyers (D-MI), U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). More than 5,000 attendees reportedly attended the job fair, with more than 70 employers present.
Cleaver cited the recently released Pew research study to underscore the fragile economic state of many African Americans. That study demonstrated that the average wealth of a White American is $113,000, while the average wealth of an African-American is $5,677.
According to CBC members, the tour marks the Caucus’ attempt to make a more concerted effort to tackle the unemployment issue, as Cleaver said that more than 40 bills its members introduced in Congress to create jobs, such as a “21st century” version of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, never made it to the floor of the House.
“Majority rules,” said Cleaver “and so if you are not in the majority, you can’t get any of your legislation on the floor.”
Conyers said that President Obama’s reelection would depend on creating a jobs bill, and Meeks said that bill would have to include language that specifically endeavored to increase employment in the African-American community. According to CBC members, action to mobilize the President might also include a rally before its Annual Conference in September.
In Detroit, at least, several factors appeared to be helping the city to improve its employment situation, according to discussion at the town hall. The city was reportedly rated by Forbes as the best place in the country to do business. Detroit reportedly has a large population of 24-35 year old college graduates who appear to be making a commitment to living in the city. Recent reports also cite the fact that Detroit’s technology job sector is rapidly growing. It appears that tech companies are interested in laying roots in the city. In his coverage of the job fair for MSNBC, for example, correspondent Jeff Johnson mentioned that AT&T sought to “invest in Detroit and America through technology.”
CBC members also mentioned the importance of investing in small businesses and the viability of the green jobs sector and how it could potentially present a wells-spring of jobs.
Cleaver, for example, spoke of how $130 million dollars in stimulus money was used in Kansas City, Missouri, to transform a community into a ‘Green Impact Zone’ in which weatherization and smart grid technology were implemented in older residential areas to create jobs for residents.
Clarke appeared not only interested in green job creation, however, but addressing financial instability in the Black community.
He drew a standing ovation and embrace from Waters after charging that consumer debt was plaguing the Black community and maintaining that student loan debt should discharged and mortgage principals cut. He also advocated legislative measures that would allow federal tax dollars paid by Detroit resident to “stay in Detroit.”
Waters, known for her outspokenness, was alternately dubbed the ‘intellectually gangster member of Congress’ by Johnson, while Conyers labeled her ‘Queen of the Caucus.’ Following form to her comments at the Cleveland stop of the tour, she did not mince words regarding the Tea Party and “putting pressure” on Obama to take action about job-creation in minority communities.
“I am still puzzled and dumbfounded at any vote from any member of the Congressional Black Caucus in support of the deal that went down to raise the debt ceiling,” she said stating that the President should have made the Tea Party “walk the plank” instead of acceding to the deal in hasty intimidation by the Tea Party. Waters said that the deal stands to create “awesome and tremendous” cuts that will have “devastating” effects on “our communities.”
In addition to taking a strong stance on other features of the debt deal, she took issue with investment banks for allegedly preying on minority communities and causing things like foreclosures and the fact that their recent bailout by the federal government was not tied to any stipulations. In her opinion, and in reference to the moniker given to her by Johnson, she contended that the real “gangsters” are on Wall Street.” Waters also made light of her recent House ethics investigation, stating her intent has been to help Black banks benefit from federal bailout dollars.
The town hall reached a crescendo near its end, as riled up audience members commanded the attention of security by demanding that some of their concerns about the local employment situation were addressed.
Johnson called out to security to relent.
“There is no way you can think we were going to have a jobs discussion in Detroit … without people being pissed off,” he said
The next stops on the jobs tour are:
•Atlanta, August 18 — Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Hank Johnson at Atlanta Technical College. Job Fair 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EDT, Town Hall 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EDT.
•Miami, August 22-23 — Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church (Town Hall) and the James L. Knight Center, Miami (Job Fair). Town Hall: August 22, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EDT, Job Fair August 23 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EDT.
•Los Angeles, August 30-31 — Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Town Hall August 30, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. PDT, Job Fair August 31, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PDT.