Stimulus won’t help African-American unemployment

In Illinois, the unemployment rate stands at 8.6 percent. The number is significantly higher for African-Americans, who averaged 12.1 percent unemployment in 2008.

In Illinois, the unemployment rate stands at 8.6 percent. The number is significantly higher for African Americans, who averaged 12.1 percent unemployment in 2008.

Though solutions to chronic and pervasive unemployment in the Black community vary, the consensus among community leaders is that relief won’t come from President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan.

Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last month, and cash-poor states await the infusion of money to help lift their own economies, save and create jobs, and invest in infrastructure and other projects.

At stake in Illinois is 148,000 new or saved jobs and a sliver of the more than $9 billion pie the state is scheduled to get from the federal government’s stimulus plan. The city is also looking for a $1 billion share of the money, which it says will help save or create 16,000 jobs.

Specifically, African-American labor leaders are looking to ensure that some of the projects and dollars from city, county and state infrastructure programs, which represents the lion’s share of the stimulus’ initiative, makes its way to African-American businesses and contractors and has an appreciable affect on the high unemployment rate in the African-American community.

But leaders, from elected officials to civic CEOs, have little hope that there will be much financial benefit for the African-American community with the federal stimulus plan.

Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr. was only half joking with some his 2nd Dist. constituents gathered in south suburban Richton Park Saturday when he told them they didn’t look “shovel ready.”


The term has become synonymous with the stimulus plan and indicates projects that are ready to roll, and are just simply waiting on money to move forward.

Though Jackson said Obama’s plan “will address unemployment with all Americans,” he’s also trying to fathom infrastructure as recourse for Black unemployment.

“I’m just having a problem with the analysis … that somehow a lot of people who are suffering (in this economy) are being told they need to go build a bridge,” Cong. Jackson said.

Acknowledging that infrastructure is the crux of the stimulus plan but poses an issue for African Americans, due to struggles with unions, Cong. Jackson told the Defender that not all elements of the economic stimulus are going to benefit everyone.

While pouring billions of dollars into paving and building roads, constructing schools and building bridges is potentially a boon for unions, it could be a bust for African Americans.

Cong. Jackson told the Defender that unions represent “an ongoing struggle that we still have to be vigilant over.” Still, he said the roads and other construction projects offer universal benefits. He explained that the plan would decrease unemployment in the state by 1.9 percent by the end of 2010, affecting some 71,000 jobs in his district alone.

But rather than projects the state is set to roll out, as part of the economic recovery plan, Cong. Jackson touted construction of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport in the southland, which is gaining more and more support, and he played up other aspects of the federal stimulus, including the 13 percent increase in food stamp benefits and the extension of unemployment benefits.

But social service solutions are exactly what the Chicago Urban League discourages in trying to push for economic recovery.


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