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We Need Pathways Out of Poverty

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif), NNPA Special Commentary
The economic crisis is having a devastating effect on millions of Americans and has resulted in record levels of unemployment.  For the first time since 1983, that national unemployment rate has reached 10.2 percent.  In my home state of California the unemployment rate has topped 12.2 percent.  Just last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that nearly to 14.6 percent of American families struggled to find food last year, the highest rate since 1995.  These numbers are painful reminders resulting from the economic policies of the former Bush Administration.

They underscore the need for Congress and President Obama to continue to work together to create jobs in our economic recovery efforts.

Sadly, once again communities of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, are experiencing the worst of these job losses.

According to the Department of Labor, although the national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in September, the rate for African-Americans was 15.4 percent and for Hispanics it was 12.7 percent. As disproportionate as those numbers are, the evidence indicates that the gap in unemployment rates for communities of color is widening. As a result, the pipeline to poverty is being filled with minority children and families at an increasingly alarming rate.  That is why in August the Congressional Black Caucus, along with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the Speaker that called for the extension of unemployment benefits.  People need help during this economic crisis, American workers, the unemployed and families are hurting.

I’m pleased that earlier this month Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation fulfilling our request giving an much needed economic lifeline to help those who’ve been laid off.

But the truth is that addressing the unemployment gap for minority communities will not happen through an extension of unemployment insurance alone. Millions of Americans are grasping to maintain their quality of life during this turmoil. This crisis is particularly acute among African-Americans. More than 24 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line and African Americans are 55 percent more likely to be unemployed than other Americans.

The Congressional Black Caucus, in its continued role as the Conscience of Congress, has a moral obligation to address inequality and injustice as never before in history. We are aggressively advancing the role of government to empower and protect American families by collectively pursuing a legislative agenda that addresses the priorities of our constituents.

We believe that we have a responsibility and obligation to eradicate poverty by utilizing the full constitutional power, statutory authority and resources of our government to provide opportunities for all and to develop pathways out of poverty. Some of these opportunities and pathways include economic opportunities, job training, livable wages, education, mental health services, affordable housing, health care, child nutrition and a responsible foreign policy.  To that end, we need a concerted effort from the Federal government to expand access to education, job training and economic opportunities to provide a pathway out of poverty and ensure that people of color can compete for jobs on a level playing field.

In addition, we must ensure that banks improve their lending to small, minority and disadvantaged businesses to ensure that jobs are created in our neighborhoods.  The legacy of the Bush Administration is failed policies that have weakened our economy and two wars that have sapped resources that should be directed to domestic needs.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are working together along with congressional leaders and President Obama to fix our economy and create jobs to address the true depth of this recession.

U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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