The fourth leg on the Congressional Black Caucus’ “For the People Jobs Initiative” featured familiar scenes: long lines and a crowded ballroom filled with job seekers, and a palpable sense of anxiety over the economy.
More than 5,500 people attended the CBC job fair at the James L. Knight Center, which is often the site of concerts, comedy shows and galas that attract large black audiences to downtown Miami. But on Monday, those inside the facility toted resumes, rather than concert tickets.
Unlike the Atlanta stop on the five-city tour, where more than a dozen people fainted in the 93 heat, those waiting to enter the main conference area in Miami waited indoors. Once inside the main space, job seekers were greeted by more than 120 employers, said to have more than 5,000 available jobs fanned out at draped tables.
Some job seekers came away disappointed. Most employers weren’t there to conduct interviews on the spot, or even take resumes. At the Marriott table, job seekers were instructed on how to apply for more than 50 positions online. The same was true at other tables, where representatives from companies including Sprint, Macy’s, Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Florida and McDonald’s, explained their available opportunities — employers had to have jobs available in order to participate — but in most cases did not make offers or give interviews.
One of a small number of companies who was hiring on-site, Duty Free America, attracted a large crowd of hopefuls, who waited at nearby tables for their chance to be interviewed for more than 100 jobs at the company’s airport retail locations. Most of the available jobs pay around $8 an hour, a company representative said, but there are opportunities to earn bonuses. Some 75 people were offered jobs in Miami, according to the representative, but those offers are conditioned on the applicants passing a background check, which would clear them to work in a secure airport setting.
In addition to meeting potential employers, those who came to the Miami job fair could take advantage of break-out sessions and workshops on mortgage foreclosure prevention, civil rights restoration for former felons, career and professional development, entrepreneurship and state business licensing.
The job fair was the second half of a two-day event hosted by freshman Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Miami’s 17th District, which has long been hit hard by economic distress. Part one of the Miami leg featured a lively town hall Monday night, at which nearly a half dozen members of Congress, including CBC chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Wilson, Reps Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Donna Richardson (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), André Carson (D-IN), Maxine Waters (D-CA), civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and Miami-Dade NAACP president Bishop Victor T. Curry squared off with White House Competitiveness Council chairman Don Graves over issues of race, the tea party, jobs and President Barack Obama’s response to all three.
On Tuesday, Cleaver said he and the other CBC members feel the frustration of black Americans with the White House, but also with them.
“It takes a lot for people to admit that we were wrong,” Cleaver said, pointing out that when Obama took office, he and Congress spent the first two years of his administration focusing on health care and financial reform, when Cleaver’s constituents wanted action on jobs. “Well, we were wrong.”
Cleaver said the criticism of the president at Miami’s and other town halls was intended “to make him a better president,” and dismissed concerns that the sometimes harsh words of CBC members, including Waters, would dampen enthusiasm for the president’s re-election.
Instead, he called on both critics and supporters of the president, including popular radio personalities like Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey and Michael Baisden — all harsh critics of Tavis Smiley and Professor Cornel West over their harsh, and often personal, attacks on Obama, to stand down.
“When black people see all of this bickering, they may just say, ‘I’m staying out of it,’” Cleaver said, calling the internecine warfare, along with hopelessness on the jobs front, the biggest threats to Obama’s re-election.
Waters too, dismissed critics of her sometimes harsh words for the president, along with those who say the CBC has the primary responsibility for delivering jobs to their districts, not the White House.
“That’s not the way congress, works,” Waters said. “What happens is that first of all, you have to recognize what the balance of power is at all times. The leadership on big issues comes from the White House.”
Waters urged the president to fight for a “new WPA” referring to the Works Progress Administration that directly employed people via President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration during Great Depression — including major infrastructure projects to put people back to work. And she urged the president to call for targeted programs that specifically address the 16 percent or higher rates of black unemployment.
Waters said the idea for the town halls came during a regularly scheduled CBC luncheon.
“I was at one of those moments where I was ‘up to here’ with business as usual,” she said.
“So I said look guys, we need to get out of Washington and we need to do something concrete. We’ve done all the introduction of bills; we have over 40 bills we’ve introduced. Nobody’s paying attention to these speeches on the floor (of the House). Let’s get out into our districts and into our communities.”
Waters called job fairs “kind of an old fashioned notion” but one that’s still relevant.
“We’re forever giving these employers support through the (legislative) process,” she said, “they get votes for influence, whether it’s tax favoritism or what have you. Let’s ask them to come to our communities and give our people an opportunity at least to try and get a job.”
The five-city CBC jobs and town hall tour began in Cleveland, Ohio on August 16, and has included stops in Detroit, Atlanta and Miami. The final leg takes place August 30-31 in Waters’ district in Los Angeles.