National Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Marc H. Morial today shared the personal stories of unemployed Americans with the Congressional Black Caucus during a hearing on the jobs crisis. “Their stories are both heartbreaking and hopeful,” Morial said. “They paint a portrait of Americans who are willing to fight with everything they have, if only they are given a chance to succeed. On behalf of the more than eight million Americans who’ve lost their jobs during this economic crisis, the National Urban League urges Congress to pass legislation that funds direct job creation, job training and youth employment.
The National Urban League solicited personal experiences through its new social mobilization platform at www.iamempowered.com, and promised to take the stories to Congress. Morial submitted more than 150 accounts for the record. Mary Ellen Caron, Commissioner of the Chicago Departent of Family and Support Services, wrote that last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the City of Chicago to offer an additional 8,000 summer job opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth, bringing the total of youth jobs funded by the city and its public and private partners to 20,000. The city received nearly 80,000 applications
for the positions. “Without the ARRA funding there would have been summer jobs for only 14% – one in seven – of the young people that applied for one… Without continued federal investment,
an entire generation of young people is at risk of being severely or even permanently disconnected from the labor market.”
Caron cited research showing that a quality employment experience during the teenage years correlates to a sucessful transition into the labor market in adulthood. People who are unemployed for long periods in their teens or early 20s are more likely to develop drinking habits, depressive symptoms and other disruptive behavior such as crime and drug taking. Youth employment translates into higher wages well into adult careers.
Melissa, a young college graduate facing college loan payments, questions her decision to seek higher education: “Even if I defer my student loans the interest is growing so much that it will only make my situation worse. I need help, and not just a job bill but a career bill that allow for more entry-level jobs to help graduates get into some of these job fields that would allow equal chance to get a better salary.
Christina, a 45-year-old woman, unemployed for 15 months, struggles to care for her cancer-stricken mother: “Other than screaming I am not sure what I will do in the next few months without gainful employment. The chronic need in communities of color is not to just extend unemployment benefits but to give us counselors at the unemployment office who have the time, skills and energy to really offer concrete help.” A bewildered grandmother is desperateto hang on to her home and support her two granddaughters: “I have the skills that the employers are requesting, yet what are they looking for in a person? …I sit at my computer, day in and day out, using the search engines to find leads on employment only to find nothing. There appears to be nothing out there.”
A Chicago woman with dangerously high blood pressure and no health insurance has seen her family scatter in search of work: “I am not out of hope yet, but I am becoming one of the hopeless. I have lost all of my pride.”
A young father, out of work for two years, has reached the end of his unemployment benefits: “I don’t want a handout, just a job to help support my family and pay my debts and feel like a man again.”
Melvin, a former convict, is trying to turn his life around: “No one wants to hire me, but that’s okay because they don’t know what they have in me as an asset to the company that hires me. I’m going to keep on plugging the holes and gaps through the help of the Urban League of Jacksonville, and I will not give up.”
Morial said the stories touched him deeply, and hopes they will inspire Congress to act quickly.
“There is so much untapped potential, ready to help the nation recover and grow – but we need to focus on solutions that directly create jobs and train workers to achieve,” Morial said. “And just like Melvin in Jacksonville, we will not give up.” •