America has again found itself at a crossroads where we must band together to lift our economy and remain globally competitive. An educated populace is crucial to our recovery. Instead of cutting funds for our teachers, students, and schools, we must keep investing in our education system to foster a generation of Americans fluent in science, mathematics, and liberal arts that can continue to lead our country forward in the 21st century.
After years of rising prosperity in an unregulated banking industry, a 34-point drop in the U.S. Stock Market on October 24, 1929, led to the market tumult that ultimately plunged our economy into depression. We unfortunately repeated the story in 2008, a decade after the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that allowed banks to gamble with personal savings while deregulation under the Bush administration oversaw a rise in irresponsible consumer lending. In response to then Treasury chief Henry Paulson on September 23rd, 2008, in which he urged: "We must [enact a program quickly] in order to avoid a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets that threaten American families' financial well-being, the viability of businesses, both small and large, and the very health of our economy," my Colleagues in Congress and I reluctantly bailed out Wall Street.
Yet our country still struggles with the fallout from the Great Recession: 15.1% of Americans are living at or below the poverty line. One in five children under 18 live in poverty. Among the 14.1 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, 16.1% are African Americans, 11.3% are Hispanic-Americans, and 24.6% are teenagers. The American Dream should not paint a grim future for our children, college students, and aspiring entrepreneurs.
We have hope for recovery: Education. In the recent address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea attributed Korea's rise from a war-torn country to one of the strongest economies in the world to education. Quality teachers and schools will nurture potential talent for future industries and businesses at the heart of economic growth. Good learning environment is crucial to a successful education, which is why I introduced H.R. 2394, Rebuilding America's Schools Act. This bill would provide crucial investments in infrastructure, course development, and teacher retraining in targeted schools across our nation. This could help reduce the dropout rates of students in New York City and other urban areas, where minorities are twice as likely to quit school.
So far this year, the Republican majority has neglected to improve American education. Millions of families rely on schools and educators for a curriculum, a sanctuary from city violence, and a place to learn important discipline and social skills. Yet they refused to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act which would create or save approximately 400,000 jobs for teachers, cops and first responders in our communities that need their invaluable services.
The ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement that has now spread across America reflects the many frustrations including the decay in moral leadership in the business and political community. Since the Republicans gained majority in the 112th Congress, we have not been able to put forth a single bill that has created jobs and strengthened our education system. Some Members in Congress seem to be more preoccupied in defeating President Obama rather than saving the future of our country.
Still, there is hope. Democrats in Congress last year fought tooth-and-nail to pass funding that saved thousands of teaching jobs and state Medicaid programs. In New York City, I commended Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, a $130 million program that helps minority students complete their education through paid internships, as well as job training and recruitment centers in lower income areas. The Harlem Children's Zone in my Manhattan Congressional District exemplifies teacher innovation by integrating neighborhoods into a program that streamlines pre-school to high school graduation. Parents, teachers, administrators, and after-school counselors are all engaged in the education of students.
We saved Wall Street, and the nation's top 1% continues to gain record-profits since the bailout. Main Street and the 99% of Americans continue to suffer, and are struggling to put food on the table. This is unacceptable. The wealthiest Americans should pay their fair share. We all have an obligation to help the poor, the aged, the sick and most vulnerable among us. I urge the clergy and spiritual leaders to shed further light on our moral priorities.
We can choose to give tax breaks for the millionaires and big corporations or make a direct investment in our infrastructure, small businesses, and children's education. The American Jobs Act achieves the second option. Let us learn the lessons of the past and rebuild the foundation for the present and future generations to restore the faith in the American Dream.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect October 24th, 1929 as the date of the Wall Street Crash.