Like much of the nation, I spent the last few days and weeks fixated on the debt negotiations in Washington. Intently watching as extreme factions on the right were willing to lead us into default in order to advance their agenda, I'm certain we are all breathing a sigh of relief now that the major crisis is seemingly over. But before everyone begins celebrating, it's absolutely vital that we turn our focus to the one challenge that has remained constant before, during and now following the debt crisis: a lack of jobs. For those who have been struggling to gain employment, feed their families, salvage their homes and survive on a daily basis, this isn't breaking news. But it is time the rest of us pay attention -- we need jobs, jobs and more jobs.
In the time it took to reach some sort of agreement on the debt ceiling, thousands of additional Americans found themselves unemployed, countless homes were foreclosed upon and entire families were torn apart as their lives were literally uprooted by the perils of poverty. As cities and towns continuously slash their budgets and reduce the amount of teachers, police officers, firemen and other essential employees, not only are more and more individuals directly impacted by an as-yet struggling economy, but we as a collective are losing. With a scarcity of jobs, people are increasingly unable to support their local businesses, support their local economies, or even support the large conglomerates. Instead of what some may have us believe, the trickle-down theory isn't working; and despite allowing the wealthy to retain Bush-era tax cuts, these 'job creators' haven't produced much of anything for the people. And now, thanks to the Tea Party and the extreme right, we are unable to bring taxes on the wealthy to their previous levels, and instead we are rewarding them while they fail to deliver on the job front.
While most Americans understood the detrimental effects of allowing the nation to default, and were therefore undeniably concerned about a potential failure to raise the debt ceiling, they were -- and still are -- more concerned about finding work. The unemployment number is approximately 9.2 percent and for communities of color it is nearly double (and in some areas tragically higher). When a father must repeatedly sell his own blood in order to buy groceries and put gas in the car, we have a crisis. When a mother skips her own meals so that her children may eat, we have a crisis. When entire families are living in shelters because they cannot even afford to rent a room somewhere, we have a crisis. When classes are taught in a school bathroom because of budget cuts and overcrowding, we have a crisis. And when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people show up for one job opening, we have a major crisis. Now that the debt crisis is subsiding, we have got to focus on the unemployment calamity.
It's time to have an active jobs program that finally begins to put Americans back to work. We must start creating and innovating once again, and we must return to sustaining and expanding our nation's infrastructure. Let's start building, and let's ensure that these businesses with record tax breaks employ people here at home. After all, job creation is a shared obligation.
We went through a range of motions with this debt ceiling debate. Some of it was constructive; much of it was political pandering and politics at its worst. But it is time to get back to the real issue at hand -- jobs. Perhaps now those that stalled, refused to compromise and dragged out the process till the bitter end can fight the same way for creating jobs and truly turning this economy around.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl