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Tackling African American Unemployment with The American Jobs Act

Dr. William E. Spriggs, Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor, reflects on his participation in the ‘State of the Black Family’ event at Greater Grace Church in Detroit.

This past Friday, I travelled to Detroit to participate in the ‘State of the Black Family’ event at Greater Grace Church.  The event, hosted by Bishop Charles Ellis was telecast on The Word Network.  Because the Detroit metropolitan area has the highest unemployment rate of any metro area in the country, it is at the center of the nation’s job crisis.  That also places it at the center of President Obama’s newly announced American Jobs Act.

The American Jobs Act creates more jobs right now.  The Recovery Act halted the escalating loss of jobs that preceded its passage, and pushed growth from negative to positive.  Despite that success, too many Americans are still looking for work but cannot find it. 

President Obama took the bold steps necessary to insure the survival of the automobile industry and catastrophic job losses in Detroit; as a result the auto industry is now back to being profitable and once again hiring.  But the city of Detroit still faces challenges.  The American Jobs Act is specifically aimed at creating jobs now – for example by keeping teachers in the classrooms, not the unemployment line.  The Act would prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs, while also keeping cops and firefighters on the job.

The Act is aimed at revitalizing and rebuilding communities hardest-hit by the recession, like Detroit, by making significant investments in infrastructure including a school construction initiative that will put construction workers back on the job doing necessary maintenance work on roofs and heating and air conditioning and plumbing; and revitalizing computer and science labs.  The Act also funds revitalization efforts of homes and neighborhoods blighted by foreclosures; a crisis that hit Detroit particularly hard.

The American Jobs Act also would create summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth (those under 24) who have been hurt more than other groups during the downturn.  And, because the Act offers a $4,000 tax credit for employers who hire the long-term unemployed, it means that employers in cities like Detroit will get a big boost when they hire local workers.

For individual workers, who are still looking for full-time employment, the Act provides for extending unemployment insurance.  Keeping up demand for groceries, dry cleaners, beauty parlors, barber shops and gas stations is vital to keeping our neighborhoods from losing their anchors.  And, to help level the playing field, President Obama is calling for legislation that would prohibit employers from discriminating against unemployed workers.

Because the American Jobs Act puts money in the hands of America’s workers, extending the payroll tax holiday, it helps those with jobs, too.  It’s important to note that the President’s proposal is fully paid for as part of his long-term deficit reduction plan.

The job crisis has hit Detroit hard, and there are other American cities that face challenges.  The American Jobs Act will put more people to work in these impacted cities and will put more money into the pockets of working Americans. 

The people I spoke with in Detroit are working hard to provide for their families and support their community. If passed by Congress, the President’s plan will help them, and our nation recover our economic footing.

Dr. William E. Spriggs is the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor.