“The Economy Stupid” were the words on the now famous sign in successful presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s 1992 war room. Today, that sign should be in the war rooms of all candidates—from those seeking the presidency down to those running for local office. And right below it should be three words, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” The time has come for all our elected leaders and those who want to win our votes in the months ahead to focus on the most pressing problem facing our country—the jobs crisis.
Some of our leaders are stepping up to offer solutions—including Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who along with 44 colleagues has introduced “The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act” (H.R. 2914) to create over 2.2 million jobs for two years in order to provide time to get the economy back up and running and respond to some of our greatest needs. With 13.9 million people out of work—many for more than nine months, extended unemployment benefits scheduled to expire at year’s end, and dim prospects for full-time employment among private sector employers who largely refuse to hire those who are currently jobless, jobs are critical to our nation’s economic recovery. And as Rep. Schakowsky has noted, “Congress can and must do something today.”
Each part of Rep. Schakowsky’s bold proposal would create real jobs immediately that would benefit children, their parents, and their communities. This critical initiative would create a Neighborhood Heroes Corps and a Child Care Corps to provide support for early childhood, elementary and secondary educational services—the most strategic and cost effective investments our nation can make to lift children out of poverty and to ensure an adequately educated workforce for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 230,000 education jobs have been lost since 2008. State and local budgets are stretched and the American Association of School Administrators says more than a quarter of a million education jobs could be lost this school year. This bill would keep those jobs secure and rehire some of the teachers laid off by funding 300,000 education jobs for two years. Rep. Schakowsky’s proposal also would help bridge the gap between what’s needed and what’s available through the Early Head Start program. This program which helps children in the years of greatest brain development currently reaches only three percent of eligible children from birth to age three. Her proposal will create 100,000 new jobs to serve infants and toddlers who desperately need a healthy, fair start in life.
Children like three-year-old Emily Nailor of Evart, Michigan, who lives with her four-year-old sister Amanda and their parents John and Sarah, who earn less than $22,314 a year, the official poverty guideline for a family of four. “If it weren’t for food stamps and the income tax credit, I don’t know where we’d be,” John said. The Nailors don’t fit the old image of a poor family. They live in a house with a yard in a small town in Middle America—the sort of place that might have been featured in a Norman Rockwell painting, according to reporter Julia Cass. On assignment for the Children’s Defense Fund, she found the Nailor family in a rural county in central Michigan where 35 percent of the children live in poverty. John is a certified computer technician, and Sarah graduated from culinary arts school. But with a very high local unemployment rate and few opportunities available, neither one has been able to translate their education and training into a full-time job. For the last two years John’s tried to keep the family afloat by running his own business fixing clients’ computers and recycling old computers for their metal parts, but, Cass notes, “The best John can say about it is that ‘I’m still in business, even though we don’t have enough business to get off food stamps.’”
The children’s toys are mostly second hand, and their clothes are hand-me-downs that John got through Freecycle.org, an international website with local groups that trade items for free. About 300 people in Osceola County and three neighboring counties, undoubtedly struggling like the Nailors, are in their group, exchanging household items, furniture, toys, clothes, and even food like fresh eggs... “Amanda and Emily are young, so they don’t realize how poor we are,” Sarah told Cass. “But when they get older…” She did not finish the sentence.
Other parts of Rep. Schakowsky’s proposal would benefit families like the Nailors. John, as a computer technician, might qualify for one of the 750,000 new jobs the bill would create through the Community Corps. This group of workers, like the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, would address community blight, including foreclosure and disaster-affected areas, rural conservation work, recycling, and reclamation of reusable materials, among many other projects. Many of these workers have children and would once again be able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Emily and her sister Amanda and many children like them could benefit from the work of the School Improvement Corps, which would create 650,000 new jobs to create “healthier, safer, and more energy-efficient teaching and learning environments” for the 14 million children pre-K-12 who attend deteriorating public schools. About a third of the 80,000 schools in this country need extensive repairs or replacement and about two-thirds have troublesome environmental conditions. Walls filled with asbestos, walls and water laced with lead, and leaking underground storage tanks polluting the playgrounds are just some of the devastating conditions our precious children face every day. This bill would put boots on the ground to ensure our children have safe spaces in which to learn.
American communities would be made stronger through the Park Improvement Corps, which would create 100,000 jobs in conservation projects on public lands for youth 16 to 25 years old, and the Student Jobs Corps which would create 250,000 part-time, work study jobs for eligible college students. The Neighborhood Heroes Corps would provide a chance for states to hire 40,000 police officers and 12,000 firefighters. The Health Corps would provide grants to hire at least 40,000 health care providers including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and health care workers to expand access in underserved rural and urban areas.
All of this will cost money, of course, but it’s an investment we cannot afford not to make. It’s long past time for millionaires and billionaires and corporations who have benefited from tax breaks and corporate loopholes and government subsidies to contribute to rebuilding our nation’s economy. The investments in the Schakowsky bill make common sense to many Americans, economic sense for our country, and moral sense for the millions of poor children and families who have fallen into poverty who desperately want to find jobs that will help them build a better future for their children. Jobs, jobs, jobs. When will enough of our leaders get it? When we citizens make enough noise to make them hear and act.