When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed earlier this year, the resounding call throughout the nation was to bring our troops back home immediately. Wednesday night, the president responded. Committing to a withdrawal of 10,000 troops by the end of this year, and another 20,000 by the end of Sept. 2012, President Obama promised a transition of security responsibility to the Afghan people by 2014. Although folks like myself would like to see all of our men and women return home instantly, I understand that this is an immense step in the right direction. As the president so accurately stated in his address, it is time to focus on our own nation building.
A recently released report showcased little improvement in the U.S. labor market as jobless claims continue to rise, with the number of new claims for unemployment benefits for last week far greater than expected. And just as troubling is the idea that initial claims have been above 400,000 for 11 weeks in a row, with no distinct sign of shifting anytime soon. What's perhaps even more frightening is the fact that about 45% of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months, making their chances of recovering all the more difficult.
During the economic downfall in 2008, much of the focus was on the housing crisis impeding the country. As homes were foreclosed upon, tent cities emerged in public spaces and shelters were overwhelmingly occupied by mothers, children and entire families, media interest was on the innocents preyed upon by predatory lenders. But three years later, as attention has shifted on to newer topics, many of those same families are still living on the street or seeking refuge with friends and families. And the catastrophic epidemic of foreclosures and evictions hasn't ceased either. As more and more Americans lose their jobs, simply keeping a roof over their heads becomes impossible.
Another byproduct of tough economic times is the inability of people to obtain adequate health care. Without a full-time job and benefits, the possibility of affordable health care is virtually undoable for most. It is reprehensible that there are young children in the United States that have never once had a doctor's visit because their parents have been unemployed or underemployed during their entire lives. In the most powerful nation on earth, the idea that countless of our citizens prematurely die because of a lack of care is unfathomable and must be addressed immediately.
President Obama has promised us troop withdrawal from a region we have spent nearly a decade in now. I have always opposed this occupation, and although I would like to see all of our young men and women in uniform return to their loved ones, I am pleased to see the president take this step. When we are spending trillions in costly wars overseas, and Americans are continually finding it impossible to obtain employment, keep a job, put food on the table, provide a home for their families, educate their children, seek medical attention and build a foundation for the future, why should we continue to nation build abroad when we can do so here. Though we may not be leaving Afghanistan completely at the moment, the president is taking the appropriate initial steps. It's time for renewed concentration on the United States -- for that is the only way forward here at home.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl