With the current economic hard times, many Americans are confronted with a whole host of economic and financial of challenges vital to their family’s well being. Sadly, there are hard-working families losing their homes at alarming rates because of predatory lending practices and exotic mortgages.
Furthermore, everyday it is getting harder for Americans to fuel their cars or heat their homes because of the outrageous price of fuel. Just last week oil reached an all-time high of $135 a barrel. And the national average price of gas now stands at $3.95 a gallon. Gas has jumped 35 cents in the past month and is 76-cents-a-gallon higher than a year ago. All the while food prices are soaring to record high levels.
A key indicator of our nation’s economic volatility is the unemployment rate. Over the last year the U.S. unemployment rate has gradually increased. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in April the white jobless rate was 4.4 percent and the unemployment rate for Hispanics jumped to 6.9 percent up from 5.5 percent in April 2007. And the African American unemployment rate is nearly double the white jobless rate at 8.6 percent.
The U.S. Labor Department recently reported that new applications filed for unemployment increased by 4,000 to 372,000. The increase left claims higher than the 370,000 level that many economists had forecasted.
An even more telling indicator of our country’s economic condition is the unemployment rate among "discouraged workers," those workers who have exhausted unemployment benefits. In Milwaukee, for example, the unemployment rate among discouraged workers approaches 50 percent.
In economic terms, when America suffers from a cold, the African American community gets the flu. Right now America is in the midst of a recession and the African American community is in the midst of a depression.
When nationwide the number of African American discouraged workers is nearly 40%, we as a community must aggressively work towards employing those men and women who want to work.
So what can we do?
Within the last two months, the House has passed legislation that would provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for all workers and provide an additional 13 weeks for workers in high-unemployment states. Additionally, Congress recently completed action on a highway bill that will provide funding for the completion of desperately needed infrastructure improvement and the creation of 40,000 good-paying jobs.
Furthermore, as a result of direct Congressional action, President George W. Bush recently announced that he would reverse his previous decision to continue buying oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve which increases demand for oil and bids up the price of gas even further. Now that he has finally stopped this, it will free up 70,000 barrels of oil a day on the global oil market, all in an effort to lower the price we are currently paying at the pump.
In addition, the work the Congressional Black Caucus is doing to address our country’s economic condition is tremendous. In an effort to address the issue of our youth and unemployment, the Congressional Black Caucus unanimously signed a letter encouraging the creation of a summer jobs program for our youth. If we can help provide opportunities to alleviate the burden many parents face when their children are out of school during the summer, we may be able to affect the economic condition of many families.
Finally, as a result of efforts made by my colleague and fellow CBC member Congresswoman Maxine Waters, we were able to pass a comprehensive housing crisis bill that will help states and localities purchase foreclosed properties, thereby helping to stabilize our urban communities.
Through the actions of everyday citizens, efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus and our colleagues in Congress we can make a difference to help working families in these difficult times and get our country back on course towards peace and prosperity.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) represents Wisconsin’s Fourth District in Milwaukee.