By Askia Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - Thousands upon thousands of recession-weary job seekers lined up for hours at a time to attend each of a national series of job fairs and related town hall meetings convened by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in five cities throughout the month of August.
In Atlanta, job seekers camped overnight wearing business suits in tormenting heat, for an opportunity to meet the 90 employers who attended there, according to a broadcast report. The line of job seekers snaked for blocks outside Atlanta Technical College, creating miles of traffic backups in Southwest Atlanta.
The first job fair and town hall meeting was hosted Aug. 8 by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-MO) in Cleveland. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)—dean of the CBC—and Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) hosted the sessions at Wayne County Community College in Detroit on Aug. 16. The Atlanta sessions were hosted by civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and colleague Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) hosted two days of sessions in Miami Aug. 22 and 23, featuring Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, and fellow CBC member Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). On the other hand, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), a Black Republican freshman member of Congress and Tea Party favorite, condemned government initiatives on job creation and declined to support the job fair in his state.
“Make no mistake, job creation remains our number one priority,” Rep. Hastings said in a statement on the opening of the South Florida town hall. “Unfortunately, there continues to be a major racial and economic disparity that continues to go unaddressed in the broader discussion of job creation and economic recovery. That is why I am so pleased that the CBC has launched this initiative and is bringing these opportunities to South Florida to help tackle the pressing issue of unemployment and underemployment, especially in minority communities. This initiative puts boots on the ground to help people get back on their feet in these most difficult times.”
“From day one, my focus has been jobs, jobs, jobs,” Rep. Wilson added. “Unemployment in South Florida is no longer a crisis, but an epidemic. It's time to take matters into our own hands and provide real opportunities for people to get back to work.”
For his part, Rep. West insists that only the “free market” creates jobs, and he denounced CBC members such as former CBC Chairman Maxine Waters (D-CA)—who scheduled the final two-day sessions Aug. 30 and 31—as “plantation overseers” because in his view they keep people “enslaved” under government dependence.
Ironically, Rep. West's own brother Arlan West is out of work. When Arlan West called his brother seeking help finding a job, Rep. West told his brother to seek help from Rep. Waters since she was holding a job fair, according to The Examiner.com. Arlan West said he was thankful for the assistance from Rep. Waters, describing the CBC job fairs as a “prime example” of elected representatives serving their constituents. Arlan West described his elected brother's rhetoric as “unproductive.”
“As reported, African American unemployment remains extremely high at 15.9 percent, and the wealth gap between Whites and people of color is the largest it has been in decades,” CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “It has become clear that the time for immediate and real action to provide hard working Americans with real jobs is now.
“Our goal remains the same,” Rep. Cleaver continued. “We want to get 10,000 people hired at our jobs events. Washington has finally ended the see-saw game on the debt ceiling and now we can finally focus on real people who are suffering.”
Local job officials agreed. “I believe the recent lack of leadership in Washington is a contributing factor to the overall lack of confidence in the economy,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told ABC News. “Due to this lack of confidence, we are seeing a business community that is hesitant to make further investments in the economy.”
“The Congressional Black Caucus decided to take matters into their own hands,” Mahen Gunaratna, a spokesman for Rep. Wilson told ABC News. “They are tired of Republicans' inaction that prevents bills from moving forward. This is a real tangible opportunity for our constituents.”
President Obama, who spent 10 days in late August vacationing at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, said he will renew his focus on job creation during a speech slated for early September.
“When Congress gets back in September, my basic argument to them is this: We should not have to choose between getting our fiscal house in order and jobs and growth,” Obama said on Aug. 17, before his vacation began, at a stop in Atkinson, Ill., as he concluded a Midwest bus “listening tour.”
In a preview of Obama's speech, former White House advisor, now Obama 2012 re-election campaign strategist David Axelrod said the president will call on Congress to pass a number of policies aimed at stimulating the economy, including an extension of the payroll tax.
“In the short term, we need to do some things to accelerate the economy,” Axelrod said on CNN's “State of the Union” Aug. 21. “In the long run, we also ought to agree that we need to deal with our debt issue.
“Some will be new. Some we have already talked about,” Axelrod said. “Some he has been asking Congress to do for some time. The only thing that keeps us from acting on many of these things is pure politics.”