Unemployment: No light at end of tunnel

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 9/7/2011, 6:30 p.m.

The white unemployment rate fell slightly to 8 percent, according to the Labor Department, while unemployment for African-Americans rose to 16.7 percent last month, the highest it has been since 1984.

President Barack Obama has quite the assignment on his hands. Speaking at the Metro Detroit Central Labor Council rally on Labor Day, Obama said the jobs agenda speech he'll deliver to Congress and America tonight will include proposals that have received bipartisan support in the past.

"We've got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding. We've got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now," said Obama. "There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor's on board; business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board."

America currently has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and the sluggish recovery from the worst economic downturn to hit the United States and Europe since the Great Depression will be a central issue as Obama runs for re-election next year.

With Republicans and its Tea Party members controlling the House of Representatives, it will be difficult for Obama to present a bill that includes spending. Rep. Eric Cantor has even rejected disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irene and the East Coast earthquake unless there are dollar for dollar budget cuts. Nonetheless, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told NBC's "Today" show that high hopes for Obama's jobs speech remain despite the odds.

"The things that he's talking about are some things that have been supported in the past by Republicans and Democrats," said Solis on the show. Those include "infrastructure investment; helping to provide assistance to those dislocated workers, people who are out of work, who've been out of work for more than six months and longer; and also providing tax breaks for middle-class people, payroll taxes and for businesses."

According to the Department of Labor, the real unemployment rate rose last month in addition to zero job growth. That rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increased to 16.2 percent, tying this year's record set in June and placing the total number of citizens unemployed at 26 million.

The so-called real unemployment rate is made up of the official unemployment rate, which includes part-time employees-usually because they can't find full-time work-and people who gave up on searching for available work. According to Labor Department statistics, 42 percent of the country's unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

So what's the solution? Dr. Wilhelmina Leigh, senior research associate on Economic Security Issues at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, spoke with Charles D. Ellison of Politic365.com late last month about a recent proposal by Rep. Dan Larson to create a jobs committee.

"I think that's a great idea," said Leigh during the webcast, though she also mentioned that politicians could possibly overlook past ideas that have been successful in order for them to be seen as "innovators." "We've tried a number of measures and some of them have worked," stated Leigh. "We need to stop re-inventing the wheel and look at past experiences."