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$100 Billion Jobs Bill Supporting Local Government, Community Organizations Introduced

Legislation that would provide $100 billion for state and local governments and community-based organizations was announced today (March 10) by Rep. George Miller (D-CA).  According to a bill summary, it would create an estimated 1 million jobs.

Miller is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and arguably the second most powerful member of the House, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom he is close. The presidents of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities joined Miller on a conference call announcing the legislation.

On the one hand, this legislation is exciting (at least to us) because it is line with our previous calls for a strong federal urban jobs policy.  On the other hand, Congress is currently considering a string of jobs bills and the political viability of this one is not obvious. The Senate in particular has not shown much appetite for the items included in this bill.

We will keep you posted.


Jobs Bill Disappoints Some Urban Advocates

Overcoming a Republican filibuster by a vote of 62-30, the Senate on February 22 advanced a $15 billion jobs bill (HR 2847) that includes a tax credit for employers that hire new workers. Differences between this bill and a larger House bill passed in December must be resolved before it can go to the president for his signature.

We have previously written about the importance of jobs to the success of any place-based effort, including Promise Neighborhoods, so we have been following the jobs bill with some interest. There has been a fair amount of grumbling from the Congressional Black Caucus on this issue. The Washington Post today reported that several national advocacy organizations wrote a letter last week to congressional leaders asking them to support a more comprehensive jobs strategy for low-income communities. The issue has become enough of a problem that President Obama met with several prominant African American leaders about it earlier this month.

The House bill contains several provisions that are not in the Senate bill, including funding for summer jobs. With the focus of this bill now moving to negotiations between the House and Senate, it should be interesting to see how it plays out.


The Atlantic: How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America

There is an interesting, albeit somewhat depressing, lead article in the new March issue of The Atlantic. In it, author Don Peck lays out a future of prolonged economic stagnation and continued high levels of unemployment.

Of most relevance for readers of this blog are the sections about the impact on working class and lower-income men and the impact that is having on families and neighborhoods:

Communities with large numbers of unmarried, jobless men take on an unsavory character over time. Edin’s research team spent part of last summer in Northeast and South Philadelphia, conducting in-depth interviews with residents.

She says she was struck by what she saw: “These white working-class communities—once strong, vibrant, proud communities, often organized around big industries—they’re just in terrible straits. The social fabric of these places is just shredding. There’s little engagement in religious life, and the old civic organizations that people used to belong to are fading. Drugs have ravaged these communities, along with divorce, alcoholism, violence. I hang around these neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, and I think, ‘This is beginning to look like the black inner-city neighborhoods we’ve been studying for the past 20 years.’

When young men can’t transition into formal-sector jobs, they sell drugs and drink and do drugs. And it wreaks havoc on family life. They think, ‘Hey, if I’m 23 and I don’t have a baby, there’s something wrong with me.’ They’re following the pattern of their fathers in terms of the timing of childbearing, but they don’t have the jobs to support it. So their families are falling apart—and often spectacularly.”

But equally important are the sections about the impact this is having on college-educated youth.

According to a recent Pew survey, 10 percent of adults younger than 35 have moved back in with their parents as a result of the recession. But that’s merely an acceleration of a trend that has been under way for a generation or more. By the middle of the aughts, for instance, the percentage of 26-year-olds living with their parents reached 20 percent, nearly double what it was in 1970. Well before the recession began, this generation of young adults was less likely to work, or at least work steadily, than other recent generations.

And this:

When experienced workers holding prestigious degrees are taking unpaid internships, not much is left for newly minted B.A.s. Yet if those same B.A.s don’t find purchase in the job market, they’ll soon have to compete with a fresh class of graduates—ones without white space on their résumé to explain. This is a tough squeeze to escape, and it only gets tighter over time.

Strong evidence suggests that people who don’t find solid roots in the job market within a year or two have a particularly hard time righting themselves. In part, that’s because many of them become different—and damaged—people. Krysia Mossakowski, a sociologist at the University of Miami, has found that in young adults, long bouts of unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental health. “Some people say, ‘Oh, well, they’re young, they’re in and out of the workforce, so unemployment shouldn’t matter much psychologically,’” Mossakowski told me. “But that isn’t true.”

The lessons of these combined passages are clear. If neighborhood-focused initiatives like Promise Neighborhoods are to succeed, they must be more than about "cradle-to-college." They must be about "cradle-to-career," and they must be accompanied by a strategy for creating and saving jobs -- for both people who go to college and those who don't.

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies to befall inner-city neighborhoods in recent decades was the collapse of American manufacturing. Free-trade policies that promote continued trade deficits in good times and bad have had an enormously negative impact on manufacturing and the inner-city social fabric.  The few retraining programs created to address this have been all but meaningless in their impact. If we don't address the underlying problem of jobs then programs like Promise Neighborhoods, no matter how well designed, will fail.

Obama Meets With Black Leaders on Economy

President Obama today met with several prominent African American leaders about the economy and its impact on urban and rural areas with high levels of minority unemployment.

Meeting with the president were Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.

"What's clear is that we have a president who gets it," Jealous told the Associated Press.  According to the AP:

Jealous said the focus of the talk was on place, not race, meaning the regions populated by blacks and other groups that have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession.

In January, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 16.5 percent, significantly higher than the national rate of 9.7 percent.  According to the Washington Post, Obama "used the occasion to signal his concern about mounting black joblessness while enlisting his guests' support for his proposals."

Last year, members of the Congressional Black Caucus challenged the administration to do something about minority employment. In a radio interview that month, the president backed away from policies that specifically benefit African Americans and instead supported policies that benefited American more broadly.

"I'm the president of the entire United States," he said. "What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need. That, in turn, is going to help lift up the African American community."


Ruse of the Creative Class

The American Prospect ran an interesting (and critical) article in their most recent issue about the urban policy guru, Richard Florida. Anyone with a significant urban policy background has probably heard of him. For those who haven't, his basic thesis is that cities can revive their economies by developing environments that are attractive to a creative class of urban professionals, particularly those in the high tech and arts field.

According to Florida's thesis, outlined in a 2002 book called The Rise of the Creative Class, the Youngstown, Ohios of the world can become the new Austin, Texas by making their communities more tolerant and tech-friendly. While these are worthwhile activities, their effectiveness as primary economic and anti-poverty strategies are questionable. Some important passages from The American Prospect article:

Conservatives have questioned Florida's elevation of gay-friendliness as an economic driver and noted that, by some measures, yuppie idylls like San Francisco and Boston have lagged behind unhip, low-tax bastions like Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina. Liberal critics have noted that his creative hubs suffer high inequality, and argued that other cities should develop their own human capital -- including that of the low-income minorities who have little place in Florida's universe -- instead of chasing a finite number of laptop professionals.

I suppose that puts us squarely in the second group.

Florida has most recently come under increased fire, however, because he has reportedly changed his thesis. In a forthcoming book, he apparently has decided that the current recession has rendered whole communities unsavable, and that the residents should simply pack up and move to the established creativity centers like San Francisco. In one notable example, he has reportedly distanced himself from Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's "Cool Cities" effort, which was based largely on his earlier approach.

On this, one excerpt from the article is particularly enlightening:

More troubling, his skeptics say, is the way that Florida's embrace of the "new geography" precludes any real grappling with the factors behind the trends he describes -- say, the effect of the Chinese currency and lack of a U.S. industrial policy on American manufacturing.

We couldn't agree more. In one sense, efforts like Promise Neighborhoods, with their emphasis on education, are vulnerable because they are based on a similar premise -- that we can address inner city problems by opening doors to Florida's creative class. A better answer, though, would value work and careers more broadly and would be tied to an economic policy that created jobs for all segments of society, not just the college-educated few.


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by Dr. Radut