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National Urban League Launches $70 Million Jobs Rebuild America Initiative

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By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

“We urge that a comprehensive jobs program be developed and executed by way of a partnership that includes government, the private sector and the nation’s non-profit community.” November 7 National Urban League letter to President Obama, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi

(NNPA) The December jobs report has confirmed what urban America has known for a very long time: The fierce urgency of now is overtaking the slow pace of the economic recovery and continuing partisan gridlock in Washington. The recent jobs report reveals that 155,000 jobs were created last month and overall unemployment remained at a steady and still too high rate of 7.8 percent. But the unemployment picture in urban America tells a decidedly different story.

African American unemployment, which has hovered at twice the national average for decades, has now climbed to 14 percent and the Hispanic jobless rate of 9.6 percent also continues to exceed the national average. Despite the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus and other progressive voices in Congress, the jobs crisis in urban America has reached emergency proportions and is tearing at the economic and social fabric of many communities. That is why the National Urban League announced last week a new $70 million “Jobs Rebuild America” initiative designed to employ, educate and empower communities that have been hardest hit by the Great Recession.

Our campaign is a two-pronged effort. First, through a $70 million public-private expansion of existing Urban League job training, education and business development programs, we intend to directly assist thousands of jobseekers and entrepreneurs in dozens of cities over the next five years. The second component of the Jobs Rebuild America initiative is a public engagement campaign to increase pressure on Washington to invest in the education and skills enhancement of at-risk youth and disadvantaged young adults. We also call for passage of targeted jobs legislation and a responsible fiscal plan and deficit reduction initiatives that do not exacerbate the unemployment crisis.

This effort is an outgrowth of the National Urban League’s historic mission of economic empowerment for African Americans and other hard-pressed urban citizens. It also builds upon the work that our network of nearly 100 affiliates has been engaged in since the start of the Great Recession. Our affiliates have served as economic first responders for communities devastated by job loss. They have also been successful in creating economic opportunity and preparing thousands of people to avail themselves of those opportunities. We’ve worked closely with our partners in the private sector and the federal government to maximize resources and mobilize the strength of our collaborative efforts.

For this expanded effort, we have put together a powerful coalition of public and private partners who have pledged their expertise and other resources. They include, the U.S. Department of Labor, Nationwide Insurance, Everest College, Pitney Bowes, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Stonehenge, UPS, State Farm, Target, Best Buy, the U.S. Department of Justice, AT&T, Time Warner, Chevron, BP and the New York Stock Exchange.

Our collective message is this: While we believe it is important to tackle deficit reduction, job creation remains the nation’s number one priority. We urge the President and the Congress to adopt a balanced approach that marries compassion for the most vulnerable Americans with protections for the nation’s jobs and sacrifice from all.

For a full description of the Jobs Rebuild America Initiative visit www.nul.org

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Congressional Black Caucus Offers Diversity Boosting Obama Cabinet Suggestions

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

(NNPA) Amid criticisms that President Obama’s new administration seems to be dominated by White men, the new chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus has offered some diversity-boosting suggestions.

In a letter sent to the White House, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) asked the president to consider Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) for the position of Secretary of Commerce and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to fill the post vacated by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on Jan. 9.

“Both Melvin Watt and Barbara Lee have served the American people in the United States House of Representatives and the citizens of their respective Congressional districts with distinction… [and] are exceptionally well-qualified, proven candidates,” Fudge wrote in her letter.

Watt, a former CBC chairman, has served in Congress since 1993. As an attorney, he specialized in minority business development law and was a partner in several small enterprises.

Lee has served California’s 9th Congressional District since 1998. Also a former CBC chair, she has been a persistently progressive voice on Capitol Hill, advocating against the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War and championing issues such as labor and minority health.

“While I’m honored by my colleagues’ unsolicited recommendation, my focus remains the 13th Congressional District. If the President were to ask me to join his Cabinet, I would of course have to give that very serious consideration,” Lee told The San Francisco Chronicle.

Health Agencies Urge Better Gun Policies

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By Ayana Jones
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

(NNPA) In response to the recent carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., various health organizations are calling for intervention in reducing firearms-related deaths and injuries.

“Since 1996, ACP has proposed policies to reduce deaths and injuries related to firearms, even as we must also acknowledge today that we are not doing enough. Over the next weeks and months, ACP will review the research on the most effective approaches to reduce firearms-related injuries and deaths, and then from this review, offer our ideas for a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach,” Dr. David L. Bronson, president of the American College of Physicians said in a statement.

“But we know already that there are policies that can help and should be acted upon immediately. Congress should start by banning the sale of assault-type weapons and high capacity (ammunition) magazines that are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time. Weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used to kill 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Bronson called for the public health system to be strengthened.

“The public health system must be strengthened and adequately funded to provide access to treatment, as long as it is needed, to people with mental health and substance abuse problems. It is especially urgent that the system provide affordable and effective treatment options for persons who may be at greater risk of inflicting violence on themselves and others, even as we recognize that most persons with mental health and substance abuse problems pose no danger,” said Bronson.

“Government must not impose any restrictions on physicians being able to counsel their patients on reducing injuries and deaths from firearms in the home, as some state legislatures have attempted to do.”

Dr. Rahn K. Bailey, president of the National Medical Association, expressed condolences on behalf of the organization of African American physicians and called for increased awareness and treatment of mental illness.

“There have been far too many senseless acts of domestic terrorism occurring in this country. After seeing the multiple images of sobbing schoolchildren, as well as distraught teachers and parents on the various news outlets this weekend, there is only one thing left to say; this has got to stop,” said Bailey, who is a psychiatrist.

Bailey noted that there is a need for acute psychiatric intervention for the victim’s family, the children who survived and for others affected.

“There is an ever present need to increase our awareness, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. This is necessary for the individual, but also for our communities as we have unfortunately witnessed; undiagnosed and untreated mental illness may lead to tragedy for us all,” said Bailey.

Bailey noted that although signs of mental illness appear in adolescence and early adulthood; mental illnesses are usually diagnosed in young men in their late teens to mid-twenties, as opposed to women which are more often diagnosed in their late 20′s. These signs or symptoms are not limited to a particular race or group in our society and we must recognize that mental illness is a medical condition.

“The stigma associated with mental illness delays adequate diagnosis and care and can have devastating effects on the country,” Bailey said.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine, called on government at every level to increase investments in mental health resources and to ban the sale of assault weapons and high capacity-magazines.

“Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of gun violence every day,” said Dr. Andy Sama, president of ACEP.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to everyone affected by this terrible event in Newtown. We deplore the improper use of firearms and support legislative action to decrease the threat to public safety resulting from the widespread availability of assault weapons. We also are urging policymakers to restore dedicated funding for firearms injury prevention research.”

CEP’s policy on firearm injury prevention endorses limiting the availability of firearms to those “whose ability to responsibly handle a weapon is assured.” It also calls for aggressive action to enforce current laws against illegal possession, purchase, sale or use of firearms.

“The nation’s emergency physicians call for increased funding for the development, evaluation and implementation of evidence-based programs and policies to reduce firearm related injury and death,” said Sama.

“We will fully support legislation that supports the principles of ACEP’s policy on firearms injury prevention.”

MSNBC Sees Viewership Gains in Black Audience

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

(NNPA) MSNBC had a banner year in 2012, seeing a 20 percent increase in ratings overall. The boost was fueled, undoubtedly, by the 2012 presidential campaign, but there was another major factor: Black viewership.

The cable news channel announced that its already robust Black audience increased by 60.5 percent to 284,000 in 2012 from 177,000 in 2011, and now comprises 31.4 percent of their total audience.

Among Black viewers, MSNBC outshined its major competitors: CNN saw a 23.7 percent increase (to 162,000 in 2012 from 131,000 in 2011) while FOX News saw a 23.7 percent decrease (to 29,000 in 2012 from 38,000 in 2011).

“I think we made a commitment, we decided, that in order for this channel to succeed, that we had to reflect the country. This meant that we had to be part of the country in ways that the other channels weren’t,” MSNBC President Phil Griffin told Mediaite.com.

Black viewers were likely drawn by the channel’s progressive approach to current issues, but also by the “look” of the network. The array of diverse on-air talents includes hosts Tamron Hall, Touré, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Rev. Al Sharpton, and contributors such as Joy Reid, Goldie Taylor, Karen Finney, Prof. Michael Eric Dyson, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Eugene Robinson, and Jonathan Capehart.

”We have a diverse on-air group of people,” Griffin said, “because that matters, and people want to know that we reflect their world. And it’s not just a single show—it’s across the board. You look at the guests every hour and we make sure that we have women, African Americans, everything, and I think to spend a day watching MSNBC is to see America as we have seen it.”

That diversity was not calculated solely to increase numbers, Griffin added, but was a natural outgrowth of the channel’s core philosophies.

“It wasn’t like we said ‘Oh, we have to have a diverse person on here and there,’” he said. “We made a decision. We made a commitment in ideas, issues and everything – the audience followed, and that goes back to four or five years ago. As we grew, we recognized that it was the right thing to do. It’s giving a voice to people in these kinds of programs who don’t always get a voice. Our look is as diverse as any on mainstream TV. I’m incredibly proud of it.”

Homeownership Still on Fiscal Cliff

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

(NNPA) While President Barack Obama and the Congress remain engaged in a never ending battle over the nation’s fiscal matters, Americans continue to struggle with their own share of fiscal fracases. The discussion over whether to lift the nation’s debt ceiling or increase taxes on the wealthy, is only a distraction from the greater issue at hand – saving Americans from losing their homes and ending the country’s housing crisis.

Millions of Americans have lost their homes over the past decade while many more are currently living in fear of the inevitable. Despite programs that local and federal legislators, along with banking institutions, have implemented in order to assist homeowners stave off a foreclosure, most have proven to be ineffective and predictions suggest a slowdown in foreclosures but not necessarily a decrease in the numbers.

Within the past few months, rays of hope have shined over homeowners who were informed that banks would take a holiday from evicting people whose foreclosures may have occurred during the November and December holiday season. In addition, it was reported recently that 10 banks accused of providing deficient mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices agreed to pay $8.5 billion in cash payments and other assistance to nearly 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010. Eligible borrowers are expected to receive compensation ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, depending on the type of possible servicer error.

It’s a good sign, but foreclosures remain at a high and consistent rate. The Center for Responsible Lending (CLR) estimates that 8.1 million homes will have fallen into foreclosure by 2013, but the organization also sees a positive future for homeownership. “Today we have an opportunity to return to a stable lending environment with rising homeownership, providing working families a path to greater economic security and prosperity,” according to the CLR.

But we’re at a crossroads. Policymakers face major decisions on new lending rules and the government’s role in supporting the mortgage market. A key question: How will these policies affect homeownership opportunities for lower- and middle-income families who bore the brunt of the recent crisis?

Neither President Obama, nor policymakers, should act as if the housing crisis has ended. The country’s road to recovery will only speed up when the focus is put on improving employment opportunities for lower- and middle-income families and their ability to purchase new homes or stay in their existing homes is secured and protected from predatory and unfair lenders.

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BVN National News Wire