Making our voices heard in the jobs debate

OPINION - Too often, the discussion about the economy is led by people in Washington -- legislators, political figureheads, economists...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

We were all held in a state of suspense over the last several weeks during the recent debt ceiling debate, as people waited with baited breath to see what would happen with their Social Security payments, Medicare, and interest rates as we cut it close to the deadline of “financial doom.”

Now that the debt debate is over — at least until 2013, many Americans can return to their daily lives. But for far too many, those daily lives are filled with unending job searches and persistent unemployment.

Economists all over TV and radio have been saying that the debt deal did nothing to address unemployment. So now, the question is, will we see a shift in focus to the biggest issue facing our country: jobs? The answer has to be a resounding yes.

In July 2011, the U.S. Labor Department reported that 154,000 private sector jobs were added to the market, better than June, but not enough in light of the fact that there are 14 million unemployed people across the country.

Despite the clear crisis, even job creation can quickly turn into a partisan issue, with dissenting views within the two major political parties about how to tackle unemployment.

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A Senate bill that would have provided jobless benefits and state aid to boost hiring died in the Senate in June, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined by some Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, not too keen on the idea of “government spending” to aid the economy, saying that past efforts had failed. However, a small business credit tax cut bill was introduced in the House by Republican Congressman Allen West of Florida. Both pieces of legislation have been tied up in committee since being introduced.

It’s an unfortunate blow to job creation. Small businesses are responsible for creating 64 percent of all new U.S. jobs. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business quarterly survey released in July, 55 percent of small business owners listed economic uncertainty as one of the top two obstacles to hiring new staff.

A patent reform bill expected to create 200,000 jobs is one piece of legislation that has a good chance of passage and is slated to be presented in the Senate after the summer recess. The bill passed in the House with amendments in June. But that bill won’t be enough to create real change in the employment landscape.

Manufacturing is another area where both sides see an opportunity for job creation. There have been a few bills introduced that aim to keep jobs, but the problem is we haven’t seen any of them on Main Street. People aren’t feeling the effects of the legislation that is introduced and tied up in committee or that dies on the House or Senate floor.

We need real solutions to the problems that Americans are facing. Unfortunately, the road to recovery might just see a partisan split.

There is no more critical time than now to show legislators that we need action. People are hurting; now is not the time to play politics when people’s lives hang in the balance.

So what is the solution if government doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain?
One option is to start your own small business. There are people who are currently entrepreneurs and don’t realize their own business acumen. I’ve known people who have sold dinners, baked cakes, made jewelry, sold their own soaps and candles, all while working 40 hours a week. It’s only when their finances hit a snag that they turn to these things to patch or replace income that they’ve lost as a result of their hours being cut or losing their jobs.

There are nonprofit programs all across the country that assist these types of small businesses by providing loans or grants to entrepreneurs to start or grow a business. As previously mentioned, small businesses are largely responsible for job creation. But micro and home based businesses can also create jobs and put money back into the communities.

A program based in Harlem, called Project Enterprise, helps entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. The organization provides microloans of $750 – $12,000 to entrepreneurs at varying levels. The entrepreneurs use the money for things like purchasing equipment, creating websites, and paying for supplies. One of the entrepreneurs they helped started his business after being released from prison. He only had $100 to get his business going and he used it to buy soap and incense.

With a card table, he took to 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and began selling his product. He received several loans and business training from the organization. A few years later, he was still selling on 125th and Lenox, but he had sales in the six figures, several contractors working with him and even provided jobs to the homeless by paying them to set up his table in the mornings.

Another option for those who are currently unemployed is to look for temporary work. At times, companies lay off employees because they cannot afford to pay the salaries. Additionally, when you factor benefits into the equation, the cost becomes even higher. But the companies still need to get the work done and can turn to temp agencies to fill the gaps. For those who are unemployed it can be an opportunity to avoid lengthy employment gaps on their resume or gain new skills that will help them become more marketable when the job market does finally turn around.

But more importantly, temp jobs can help bring in money.

When the debt deal became law, emergency unemployment compensation was ended. That means anyone receiving extended benefits will cease to receive these emergency funds in January 2012 and anyone becoming unemployed after July 1, 2011 will only receive the maximum amount of unemployment provided by their state – normally between 20 – 26 weeks. Being able to continue to earn income will be paramount, especially for families who are already struggling.

While we have options, we need to ensure that the options aren’t the only choices, and for many right now who would choose to work, they can’t. And so as we begin to shift our focus from debt and deficits, to jobs and job creation.

That is the major focus of the National Action Network’s March for Jobs and Justice on August 27, 2011 in Washington DC.

Too often, the discussion about the economy is led by people in Washington — legislators, political figureheads, economists. And while your average Joe got into the fray by calling their Congressional representatives, “we the people” are not at the table.

Now, we have a unique opportunity to make our voices heard. I’ve heard from small business owners, government workers, union members and young people who are seeking to enter the workforce for the first time. All of them are concerned about the jobs crisis and how it will affect them. By joining the march on Washington, people will have an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with others who are unemployed and want to provide for themselves and their families, with workers who want fair benefits and pensions, and with entrepreneurs who need help sustaining their businesses and are the key to job creation.

It’s time to lead the discourse on jobs. We have to tell Washington that job creation must be the next great debate.

For more information on the March for Jobs and Justice, visit