In advance of the larger roundtable that the White House convened today, theGrio was able to speak with White House Domestic Policy Adviser to the president, Melody Barnes. We caught up with Barnes as she was traveling in the Midwest (Milwaukee and Chicago) with Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan on his national “Back to School Tour”. Barnes talked at length with theGrio about the president’s newly proposed Job’s package and its impact on urban communities in particular.
theGrio: Ms. Barnes, the CBC has been very critical of the president and the administration as of late relative to the historic levels of high black unemployment and joblessness. Did the White House specifically consult with members of the CBC in crafting this new “Jobs Act” to allay those concerns?
Melody Barnes: No we did not call around to individual CBC Members to get their input on specific provisions of the bill. That was not necessary because we are always talking with Members of the CBC, and mayors and those who are stakeholders in urban and poorer communities throughout America. We have had many helpful conversations about their perspective on the long-term unemployed, home foreclosures, the need for infrastructure redevelopment, job training, small business and MBE access to Capital, the ability to “bond” businesses, etc.
We incorporated those provisions into this legislation, so we are paying attention and this administration cares about the blight in our cities and urban communities, and we are working to turn things around. I should add that we did consult a variety of experts in business, economists, workers, small business owners, and others. This is a bill that we put together based on what we heard from the people and the experts who know what is needed to make this economy move again.
The president has stated many times that the United States, in the 21st century, is in a competitive global economy. Does this new jobs plan provide a foundation for the development of next generation (manufacturing) industries essential for economic recovery and restoring America’s competitiveness?
You are asking exactly the right question. While we are keenly focused on the immediate needs of job creation through some of the projects the President outlined on Thursday night before the Congress, we have to also do so with an eye toward the future. This is a two step process-we have to focus right now on infrastructure and cleaning up our schools. If we can do this we can create immediate jobs in cities and other communities that have been hardest hit by the recession and record unemployment.
Secondly, and simultaneously, we need advanced manufacturing, clean energy, green jobs (a focus on how we harness and utilize efficiently the power of energy and water) to become a regular part of the new American economy. The president understands that we need to grow the economy in order to be competitive in a global economy — we need smart growth, we need reformed and streamlined regulations where we can do so, and we are proposing a “infrastructure bank” that both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Labor support.
We are working with the SEC to review burdensome regulations on business that will free them up to get capital quicker. We want the SBA and other government entities to provide small business with a “one stop shop” for their growth, not be an impediment to their success.
Does the administration’s jobs plan encourage the development of next generation commercial companies in and around urban centers that would replace the manufacturing jobs that were exported?
Yes of course, however, we are already working hard on this area daily. For example we have regional “innovation clusters” that have a direct impact on cities. These clusters harness key assets of a region (e.g., inter-modal transportation, airports, ports, corporations, etc.) and we work to leverage them to create jobs, increase wages, strengthen communities and impact housing in areas that need that assistance.
All of this leads to what we call “smart infrastructure”. We need to be looking at these communities where homes have been foreclosed on for example and instead of boarding them up and allowing them to become abandoned properties, we should convert that housing to rental units. We have initiatives like “project rebuild” and others that are exactly focused on next generation technology-”smart jobs” which lead to “smart schools” and “smart communities”.
There is a big emphasis on construction/infrastructure jobs in the President’s Bill, which are by any measure temporary jobs. Does the plan have provisions for the creation of good paying permanent jobs, emphasis on urban centers in America as the CBC has been very vocal about this need as well?
As I mentioned at the outset, our focus at the moment is to get people working again. Infrastructure development is the quickest way to do that. However, I think we cannot just look at this as a “one shot” deal. Jobs and education go hand in hand. If we can rebuild our schools, make them safer and healthier for our kids and give the teachers the resources they need to give our kids a first rate education; we know that this leads to a better quality of life for the community and for individuals.
Let’s face it, education is a game changer. It has changed all of our lives for the better-mine, yours, the presidents. Education is an economic imperative in America, particularly for minorities and communities of color. That is why the president is marrying the proposal of jobs to our schools. The urban areas we are discussing today have been the hardest hit, and this is a way to turn it around and create longer term jobs and employment opportunities for sure.
One other thing to consider as we look at long term stabilized employment-we must work public-private partnerships like what we are doing in and around these communities, like Milwaukee, is partnering with companies like Johnson Controls, Harley Davidson and focusing on creating advance manufacturing jobs, educating and training more engineers. Organizations like NAM (Natl’ Assoc. of Manufacturers), our community colleges and other non-profit groups are working with us to bring new manufacturing jobs back to American workers as well.
Does the plan provide capital for the establishment and growth of minority owned businesses? Most agree that local workforce training programs do not provide people with required skills?
Yes it does. I mentioned the “infrastructure bank” and “bonding” provisions, as well as patent reform which is a big component of this as well.We know this is critical to small business. We also know that the banks need to loosen up the money they have and lend that money to small business so they can grow.
This is an area of frustration for the president and all of us. The banks were assisted by the American people and the government at a very tough time for them prior to this administration coming in, and after, but they need to do their part.
Government has a role but ultimately we will only diminish unemployment when money is free flowing into the economy, when businesses are thriving and when the economy is growing. I mentioned this earlier, we are working with community colleges and other entities to make sure we are training people for a new workforce. Education and the economy are linked together and if we can approach it with that mindset, we will be well on our way to recovery.