With President Barack Obama preparing to address a joint session of Congress about our unemployment crisis tonight, our message to him -- as his reliable supporters and political allies -- is simple: Think big and act boldly.
Americans expect and deserve nothing less.
Millions of people are waking up every morning without a job and with dwindling hopes of finding one. Their faith in the American Dream is flagging. Their aspirations for a middle class life are being dashed.
This is a national emergency. Unemployment is unacceptably high, more than 9 percent, with more and more Americans slipping into poverty. The number of children in poverty has climbed to nearly 15 million, a moral outrage that must be remedied. Economic despair is afflicting Americans of all stripes -- urban and rural, blue and white collar, those with advanced degrees, high school diplomas and GED.'s alike. They haven't failed; their leaders have failed them.
For communities of color, the pain is even more acute - a 15.9 percent unemployment rate for African-Americans and 11.3 percent for Latinos. Youth joblessness is also persistent (a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate for those age 16 to 19), as qualified young people move into a job market that has nothing to offer them but rejection letters and crushed hopes.
The size of the federal budget deficit is not keeping the American people up at night ; they're worried about how to pay for groceries. That's what members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus found when we traveled across the country on a jobs tour this summer, listening to struggling Americans and seeking to elevate their voices over the misleading noise from Washington. Members regularly heard from families struggling to stay afloat, losing their homes, and emptying their savings just to pay the bills.
It's time for their challenges to become the nation's challenges. Republicans have proven uninterested in real job-creation efforts. An early glimpse at their so-called jobs agenda reveals little more than additional tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, a rollback of environmental regulations and continued attacks on labor rights.
It's up to the president to offer an ambitious proposal designed to have an immediate and lasting impact. All members of Congress should support a plan that can create good jobs -- putting money in people's pockets that they can pump back into the economy.
We urge our colleagues to support the president in the restoration of the American Dream.
What should such a plan look like?
First, we must have an emergency jobs legislation that puts America back to work now. We need to create at least 3 million jobs in 2012, which will prevent a double-dip recession and strengthen the economy right away.
For our long-term success, it should include a strategy to revive our manufacturing base -- so that the words "Made in America" mean something again. Any jobs package should advance the green industrial revolution that will likely define the economy of tomorrow, and make major investments in U.S. infrastructure.
We have projects that are ready to go but need funding. We can put people to work by rebuilding roads, bridges and schools, and laying the fiber optic cable that is to the 21st century what railroads were to the 19th century.
A serious jobs plan should extend unemployment benefits -- particularly for the long-term jobless whose benefits have expired after 99 weeks. It should also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
To achieve significant economic recovery that produces jobs, investments at the level of hundreds of billions will be required. Many in Washington are likely to argue that we don't have the money. But these same critics want to hand out more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
As outlined in The People's Budget, by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we can afford to improve our economy and solve our long-term deficits. Tax reform that eliminates corporate loopholes and asks everyone to pay their fair share is the right move.
In addition, by spurring job growth, we create the taxpayers who can close the deficit. It's an article of faith among most economists that a recession calls not for belt-tightening but for an increase in federal investment to stimulate consumer demand and give the economy the jolt it needs.
We speak for many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus when we say this is not a moment for incremental steps or timid half-measures. We cannot afford to play small ball when American families are hurting this much.
America is in the throes of a national crisis. The country is demanding a big, bold, brave jobs plan. It's up to the president to deliver. We - and, more important, the American people - will support him as he does the right thing.
Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Grijalva and Ellison are the co-chairmen, Woolsey and Lee are the immediate past chairwomen.
Published 9/8/2011 on Politico.com.
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