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Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka

Posted: November 17, 2009 08:34 AM

It's Time to Put Jobs First

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We've got a jobs crisis in this country, and we need to fix it--now!

This fact shouldn't come as a surprise--in fact, a look around our nation makes it painfully obvious. The "official" unemployment rate is 10.2 percent--that's one in every 10 workers without a job--but that doesn't include the millions who have been unemployed and discouraged in the long term, and the millions more who are barely getting by with part-time work.

While millions go without work, some people are talking about "recovery"--as though numbers on Wall Street or profits at the big banks are the same as the real economy for working families. Wrong. We're still in crisis--and if we don't create jobs now, we will slide even further.

We have to put America to work--at good jobs that support families. We've tried out the everything-must-go, trickle-down, bubble economy for the past decade, and it's been a disaster. If we're really going to have a recovery--not just a recovery on Wall Street or for the big banks, but for real people--we absolutely must create new jobs.

Last summer at an event in Ohio, I met a young woman who is facing this crisis head-on. Lacey, who is not yet 20 years old, wants to become a teacher. But after her dad's factory closed and he was laid off, she had to put off her hopes of attending college to help her parents keep a roof over their heads. Lacey took a job in a school cafeteria--until the state budget got cut, and she got laid off, too. After months in which she and her father were both searching for jobs, Lacey said she felt lucky to find a part-time, fast-food job that pays half of what the cafeteria paid. Lacey has more unemployed friends than friends with jobs, and, like a third of workers her age, she's still living with her parents. Here's what Lacey said to me that day:

I wanted to be a teacher to help children get the education they need to get ahead. But now I feel like I'm just going backward myself. I'm really scared for the kids my age. We want to work. We need jobs.

We owe Lacey our support. We owe Lacey and millions like her a future to be hopeful about--not one to be feared. Lacey and her generation could find their future permanently stunted, their potential never fully met. That's unacceptable. We can't afford to let that happen.

The recovery package passed by Congress this year was a major accomplishment, and it saved our country a million jobs, but it only takes us part of the way toward repairing the damage done to our economy. We need serious, active investment in job creation. Our economy has lost more than 8 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007--that's a big hole to fill.

What does our jobs agenda look like? It's based on five key points that will give working families the help they need now and set us on a better course in the long term. Congress and the Obama administration must take these steps to turn around our dangerous slide.

  1. We must extend the lifeline for jobless workers. The families who have been hit by this economic crisis are at risk of losing unemployment benefits, food assistance and health care benefits at the end of the year. We need to act now to prevent the human suffering and economic damage that would result.
  2. Rebuild America's schools, roads and energy systems. We must put people to work to fix our nation's broken-down school buildings and invest in transportation, green technology, energy efficiency and more.
  3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services. State and local governments and school districts have a178 billion budget shortfall this year alone--while the recession creates greater need for their services. States and communities must get help to maintain critical frontline services, prevent massive job cuts and avoid deep damage to education just when our children need it most.
  4. Fund jobs in our communities. While workers go without jobs, important work is left undone in our communities. These are not replacements for existing public jobs. They must pay competitive wages and should target distressed communities.
  5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street. The bank bailout helped Wall Street, not Main Street. We should put some of the billions of dollars in leftover Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to work creating jobs by enabling community banks to lend money to small- and medium-size businesses. If small businesses can get credit, they will create jobs. The administration can act on this immediately.

Families like Lacey's are hurting, and they need support. Millions are losing not only their jobs but also their homes, their health care and their hope. We can't afford to do nothing--America's working families are demanding action now and we intend to fight for them. We'll work with businesses, government and community organizations to make a jobs agenda a reality. We'll call out and fight back against those who would block progress, and we'll work hard to support leaders who do the right thing.

We need jobs now.