At Legislative Conference, jobs for all is the priority

The workshop “Full Employment in the 21st Century: Innovative Strategies for Inclusive Growth” drew a near-full audience at the 45th Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Held in Washington, DC from Sept. 16-20, the conference’s over-all theme was “With Liberty and Justice for All?” The jobs workshop was one of more than 70 sessions dealing with issues of economic and social justice for people of color in the United States. The workshop’s honorary host was Representative John Conyers, D. Mich., the Dean of Congress-its most senior member. He made the comment that in his opinion the jobs workshop was the most important one of the whole conference.

Led by a distinguished panel of experts and activists concerning the U.S. economy, the workshop was opened by Economist Dean Baker, Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research, who praised the “great victory” which was won earlier in the day by the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it would not raise interest rates. If the Fed had raised rates, Baker said, it would have affected all other interest rates-mortgages, car loans, etc., thus slowing the economy, affecting employment. Currently the African American unemployment rate is two times that of whites. For African American teens, it is six times. “Getting unemployment rates down puts more tax revenue into the economy…Our goal is to get people back to work in an economy that works for working people.” Baker said.

One of the people who had protested at the morning rally in front of the Federal Reserve was another panelist, Connie Razza of the Fed Up Campaign and the Center for Popular Democracy. Her group was at the rally, she said, to make sure the Fed heard voices of “real people.” She made the point that “corporations and bankers are not necessarily sitting on the same side” of the interest rate question. The goal of Razza’s organization is to partner with other groups to prioritize full employment.

Another panelist, Valerie Wilson, Director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy , Economic Policy Institute, showed on a graph that when the national unemployment rate rises/falls by one percent, you see a 2 percent change for African Americans. She pointed to a period of higher wages from 1995-2000 which reflected the higher share of middle income expansion among African Americans. What must be done at the present time? “Target full employment and employment training; public investment in infrastructure; reduction of our trade deficit.”

A highlight of the workshop was the appearance of Rep. John Conyers, Jr., who has again introduced into Congress a jobs bill: H.R. 1000, The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act. Called a “21st Century New Deal,” the act currently has 39 co-sponsors, all Democrats. It aims “to provide a job to any American that seeks work and to ultimately create a full employment society.” The act includes two separate funds, one to fund job creation and the other to fund training programs. The revenue for these programs would come from “taxing Wall Street transactions to pay for Main Street jobs. “

In speaking about his bill, Congressman Conyers said that his overriding priority in Congress is to get everyone working. Seven years after the financial crisis we still need over three million jobs to get back to pre-recession levels, he said. In hard-hit parts of the country there is 25 percent unemployment. “Building a full-employment society means building a healthy, happy society; and it can be achieved if we have the political will.”

However, the government bill tracking website says there is “zero” chance of the H.R. 1000, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act, being enacted. That’s where the kind of partnering done by Connie Razza’s coalition comes into play. Massive infrastructure projects were undertaken under President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1040’s. They are sorely needed now when, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore’s rotting sewage system pipes continue to dump raw sewage into the Chesapeake Bay, both from Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

PW readers can do their part by calling their representatives to urge co-sponsorship of Conyers’ H.R. 1000, the Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act. The wording of the act can be found at: percent201000 percent20Section percent20by percent20Section.pdf.

Photo: Congressman John Conyers, Jr. emphatically stating “Employment Is a human right. The #1 issue is Jobs for All!   |   Margaret Baldridge/PW


Margaret Baldridge
Margaret Baldridge

Margaret Baldridge is a long-time activist for social justice writing from Baltimore.