ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT FORUM: Reinvest in the Nation’s Distressed Communities with a Federally Funded Jobs Program

By Deepak Bhargava*

We put trillions of dollars on the line to rescue Wall Street from self inflicted wounds, yet at a time of historic unemployment rates, some are calling for shrinking the deficit on the backs of America's workers by refusing to take the bold steps needed to put people back to work.

This is just poor policy and lacks vision beyond this year’s bottom line. Waiting for private sector growth to trickle down to communities isn’t the type of immediate and robust solution these times call for. Families are in desperate need of immediate relief. We must reinvest in our nation’s distressed communities to create jobs quickly by enacting a large scale federally funded jobs program. These jobs must be accessible to people who were hit hardest by the recession: women, people of color, single parents and underemployed workers. Unmarried women who head families, most of whom are single mothers, now have an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent, 2.4 percentage points above the national average.

At other critical times in our country’s history, the government has included federally funded jobs programs as part of the solution to extreme unemployment. These programs restored dignity and self-esteem, provided real and necessary income, and created some of our most lasting and noteworthy public resources from which everyone has benefited. When designed carefully, jobs programs can significantly boost employment for those in immediate need and help stimulate an economic recovery that doesn’t leave vulnerable communities behind.

Unless we spend significantly more money now to put people back to work, and get down to the tough job of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system that pits workers against one another and allows bad actor employers to exploit cheap labor, our chance for any real economic recovery will be lost.

We will doom ourselves to lower tax revenues, stagnant wages and higher government spending, and millions of hard working immigrants will be left without a mechanism to fully integrate financially. This would all exacerbate our fiscal woes. We can and must do better. It’s time to act boldly on behalf of all who build and sustain our country.

*Deepak Bhargava is the executive director of the Center for Community Change. Since 1968, the Center for Community Change has strengthened the leadership, voice and power of low-income communities and communities of color nationwide to confront the vital issues of today and build the social movements of tomorrow.

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