The lack of job opportunities for Blacks in America is a main issue in the African American community.
The unemployment rate for Blacks stands at 16.7%, according to the Labor Department.
To address this issue, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held a National Town Hall Meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, located in Washington, D.C., as part of their 2011 iLead iServe 41st Annual Legislative Conference.
The National Town Hall Meeting, entitled “Economic Opportunity, Jobs!” was held on Thursday, Sept. 22 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The meeting involved a panel discussion, which focused on the high rates of unemployment against Blacks and underprivileged communities.
The panelists included Marc H. Morial, President of the National Urban League; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College for Women; Robert L. Johnson, Founder of RLJ Companies; Congresswoman Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative for California’s 35th Congressional District ; Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman; and Mr. William Lucy, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Former Secretary of Labor, Dr. Alexis M. Herman, acted as the moderator for the panel discussion. The guest speaker of the event was Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who presented her remarks and observations of joblessness in America as it relates to the African American community.
Mostly people of African descent attended the National Town Hall Meeting. Attendees arrived dressed in polished business suits and blazers.
The presence of the audience caused Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II to not only compliment the attendees, but to also inform them on the facts of their socioeconomic wealth.
“As beautiful as you look, and as finely as you are dressed, according to the Pew Research released last month, the average white family is worth $113,000. You [African Americans] are worth $5,677. The disparity is greater today than it has been in 50 years,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II further explained that African Americans are at a crisis moment. The wealth of African Americans has diminished to “a puny level” because the assets of blacks are connected to home ownership.
“When you look at the 3 million foreclosures, a disproportionate number of which are African American, you can understand why our wealth is so low,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II.
The audience applauded when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II explained the “truth behind African American unemployment.”
“I resent any suggestion that people who are unemployed simply don’t want a job. That is a bold face lie,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II.
“Our commitment is to do everything we can do to create at least the atmosphere where some kind of jobs bill can be approved and we can begin to reduce this dreadful unemployment, not only in the African American community, but around this nation.”
Before Congressman Al Green introduced Dr. Alexis M. Herman as the moderator for the panel discussion, he explained the “little good” of having an academic degree if you are unable to find employment.
“On the question of jobs, let me simply say, it does you little good to have a P-h-d if you don’t have a J-O-B, so that you can E-A-T,” said Congressman Al Green.
The audience laughed at Congressman Al Green’s witty remark.
Throughout the discussion, each panelist tackled complex questions under the five topics presented by Dr. Alex H. Herman. Those topics included “Entrepreneurship or Employment,” “Youth Employment,” “Union Worker Challenges,” “Black Men and Prison Population,” and “Women in the Household.”
Dr. Alex H. Herman questioned Congresswoman Maxine Waters about the high unemployment rates of Blacks.
“As we are now in the middle of this particular fight, how do you handicap it? I mean, what do you see as our ability to get this job done? What do we need to do? Talk to us,” said Dr. Alex H. Herman.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters explained her opportunity of acting as the Chair of the Jobs Task Force. During this time, she took job fairs on the road and traveled to different cities, such as Los Angeles, Detroit, and Atlanta, to assist in the hiring of the unemployed.
“What I gleamed from going to all of those job fairs, and watching particularly the young people who had graduated from college who could not find a job. They are disappointed. People are growing angrier and angrier, and they are losing hope,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters explained what unemployed people were feeling at the job fairs.
“A lot of people are feeling, ‘We love the President. We want him to be successful, but does he feel our pain? Does he understand what’s going on out here?’ and I said it’s time to have this conversation.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters said she is pleased President Barack Obama has a jobs proposal. However, she states it is important for Americans “to trace it and track it” because strange things happen in the legislative process.
“We don’t want this to end up being just a tax cut bill only. We want investment in our infrastructure to build the roads, and streets, and the bridges, and to create real jobs for people,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
As the discussion continued, each panelist explained their beliefs as to why African Americans were facing high unemployment rates.
Robert L. Johnson blamed “the long history of institutionalized racism”. Johnson explained that people of color were already behind in a race where whites were pushed to the front, and Blacks were always struggling to catch up.
Dr. Malveaux added that “racism and the delusion of post racism in America” is why African Americans are losing the race of employment.
“We must talk about race. Blacks are constantly being pushed back…one barrier is credit score,” said Malveaux.
Malveaux explained how the unemployed are being discriminated against through the hiring application process of jobs. This discrimination includes not only credit score, but zip code and education as well.
Dr. Alexis M. Herman ended the panel discussion by asking the panelist the final question for the evening. “What can we do to make a difference in turning the economy around?”
Malveaux referred to the importance of financially supporting Historically Black College Universities, stressing the value of education.
Johnson explained that people should save as much money as they can after giving to an HBCU because they will be competing with a global workforce.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters warned that people should not become victims of the economy, and should think about entrepreneurship.
Morial answered the final question of the evening by not only stressing the importance of education, but also the significance in hiring someone who is unemployed.
“If you have children, put them in school because that’s an investment, and if you have the power to hire a young Black person, then you should put them to work.”