The Hutchinson Report
‘Work In’ sends message—We need jobs!
The three young men repeatedly shouted, “We want jobs; we want jobs,” at me and a small group of community leaders as we stood talking to the press at the bus stop on 60th and Crenshaw. We were there to demand that the MTA beef up security on its buses in the area in the wake of the gunning down of a teen on the bus parked at that corner. But that didn’t mean anything to the three young men who accosted us and identified themselves as members of the Rollin 60s street gang. Their shout for jobs was real, palpable, and even unnerving. But it was more than justified. They are part of the ballooning street army of young Black men who can’t find work. Many of them are prime prison and sadly cemetery fodder.
In January California’s official unemployment rate topped 10%. But that tells only a tiny part of the grim jobless story for these young men. The overall unemployment rate for young Black males is three times higher than that of young White males. That number is close to the unemployment rate at the peak of the 1930s Great Depression. Their chronic high unemployment is not solely the product of the severe economic meltdown. The jobless highs for young Blacks have held steady even in times when jobs supposedly were plentiful. The reasons for the astronomically high jobless rate have been well-documented–felony records, trade union and employer discrimination, crime fears, and illegal immigration. But the blame finger also can be pointed at city and county officials who are lax in enforcing the top heavy anti-discrimination and fair share work provisions in city contracts. That’s glaringly apparent with many of the shovel ready taxpayer funded construction, repair and renovation jobs in Los Angeles where African Americans are virtually invisible at the worksites. A study by university researchers in New York found that Blacks are grossly underrepresented in the construction industry and earn about 60% of what Whites earn. That’s certainly true in L.A.
Even more galling is that many of those sites where Blacks are missing jobs are at taxpayer funded projects in South L.A. This writer recently inspected several job sites in South L.A. I did not see one Black worker, driver, or subcontractor on any of the sites. This writer and other community activists confronted the contractor and a city project manager at the shovel ready Rancho Cienega stadium renovation project. We asked one question: How many African Americans will be employed as workers or subcontractors at the site? The answer we got from them was vague, garbled, mumbled.
That’s not good enough especially with several billion dollars in federal stimulus money earmarked for jobs and infrastructure projects in L.A. A demand must be made that Blacks get a fair share of the jobs and contracts. And that in keeping with President Obama’s warning to mayors, one of whom was Mayor Villaraigosa, that they will be watched closely to see that the cash goes for jobs. That means jobs for the most needy. In Los Angeles, the neediest of all are the thousands of unemployed in South L.A. Many of whom who are ready and willing to work.
This takes action to get that message across to city officials. On Tuesday, a coalition of community leaders sent that message when they staged a work in at the Rancho Cienega Stadium work site. They held up empty tool belts to dramatize the point that city officials must insure that Black workers and subcontractors get a fair share of the jobs and contracts for the six month renovation project on the stadium. That means work and contracts on all level and phases of the project.
In the coming weeks, the project will be intensely watched to make sure the jobs are forthcoming. But that’s only the start. The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and other community groups also launched a Stimulus Jobs, Not Stimulus Jails Monitor Project. It will monitor various work sites throughout the city especially those projects that receive Obama administration stimulus dollars to ensure that Black workers and subs get a fair share of the jobs and contracts. The anguished scream from the three young men who confronted me for jobs will be heard, and more importantly acted upon. The “work in” was one but only one action to make that point.
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).
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