A New Jobs Bill Is Needed

Published on
by
The Progressive

A New Jobs Bill Is Needed

by
Aaron Glantz

With almost 15 million Americans unemployed, Congress has a moral obligation to pass another jobs bill. But it also has a moral obligation to ensure that those who need the jobs the most are not left out in the cold.

President Obama and Congress need to pass a new jobs bill, and they need to make sure this one reaches Americans who are the most hard hit.

A year after the first stimulus bill became law, the Labor Department reports the unemployment rate for whites is falling (to 8.7 percent in January), but it continues to rise to 16.5 percent for blacks. And Latinos have an unemployment rate 50 percent higher than whites.

The reasons for these disparities lie at least in part in the unfair and unjust way the initial stimulus package has been implemented. A series of investigations coordinated by New America Media, where I work, show that over the last year those dollars have systematically bypassed communities of color.

In the last year, 98 percent of stimulus contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation have gone to white-owned firms. Similarly, a new government-backed small business loan program created by the stimulus benefitted white-owned businesses 91 percent of the time.

These disparities run across almost every government agency that received money under the Recovery Act. Of the 630 grants given to arts organizations by the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, less than 2 percent went to Latino organizations.

In Minnesota, the apportionment of stimulus dollars has been so unfair that community leaders have begun circulating a petition formally requesting that their state immediately terminate all federally funded transportation contracts. Nine projects with estimated costs at more than $91 million are located in the Twin Cities’ outer suburban ring, while Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which has the highest proportion of blacks and other people of color in the state, received the lowest amount of transit work ($3.8 million) among the state’s eight U.S. districts.

There is some reason for hope, however.

The Obama administration has finally pulled stimulus funds from an agency for failing to comply with federal civil rights laws. The case involves BART, Northern California’s commuter rail, which sought to use $70 million from the stimulus to build a spur to the Oakland airport that would travel through — but not stop in — impoverished East Oakland.

In a Feb. 12 letter to local officials, Federal Transit Administration head Peter Rogoff said BART’s plan failed to comply with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits agencies that receive federal funds from using discriminatory practices.

The money now appears destined for local bus and streetcar services, which had been targeted for massive cuts and fare hikes.

With almost 15 million Americans unemployed, Congress has a moral obligation to pass another jobs bill. But it also has a moral obligation to ensure that those who need the jobs the most are not left out in the cold.

Aaron Glantz is an editor at New America Media and author of the book "The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans" (University of California Press). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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