hashim-benford_web.jpgLast week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Miami on a national tour, calling for direct investment in black urban communities for jobs.

The call for jobs is nothing new. But nowadays, it seems that everybody, from right-wing ideologues like Sarah Palin to political activists on the left like Jackson, is talking about the need to create jobs. But like all things, when it comes to jobs, the devil is in the details.  

Jackson called out the stimulus package, saying it hasn’t done enough to address the major issue of unemployment we face in our communities – and he’s right. We’ve needed more opportunities in our communities for a long time, and the recent economic crisis has just made the problems we face worse.

While the stimulus package is a step in the right direction, it is missing a crucial piece. To level the playing field and create opportunity for all people, national spending needs to be targeted.  This means we must focus on creating good jobs for those hit hardest by the economic crisis.

Over the course of the last 40 years, unemployment among black Americans has consistently been higher than among whites. This is true in the good times and in bad times. And what is the driving force behind this lack of opportunity? Long-term racism and inequality. 

The root causes of the current crisis are much deeper than what is often discussed in the media.  So when we talk about unemployment, we need to talk about more than statistics. We have to recognize that being unemployed disrupts a person’s entire life, family and home.

What happens when you can’t pay the rent or the mortgage?  What happens when you can’t keep up with your bills? What do you tell your kids when there isn’t enough money for school supplies? Without jobs, how do we protect our families from illness and other health conditions?

Now take these concerns, extend them beyond one family, and make them community-wide. We are seeing entire neighborhoods struggle to get by. For black Americans, unemployment is more than just a person-by-person concern; it is a threat to the security of our homes, our communities and our futures. 

But we have the power to create opportunity and neutralize the threat. We need to create jobs and build the infrastructure that makes it possible for people to find and keep work. So, in addition to investing money in businesses that provide living wages and benefits, we need to invest in housing that people can afford. We need to invest in efficient transportation systems that prioritize public transportation so that all people can get to and from work. We need to live up to the promise of equal access to good education so that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed. We need to build healthy food systems and ensure that all people have access to nutritious and affordable foods. To do all of this, we need targeted investment.

Let’s make it plain: We need jobs. We need jobs so that we can have security and opportunity. We need to step up and take responsibility. Power concedes nothing without a demand, so we must make that demand.

We can strengthen our entire country by focusing investment in the communities that have been battered, neglected and marginalized. To get it done, we must gather the political will to tackle larger social and economic issues. And we need real leaders to come forward, get organized, and take action to win jobs and justice for our communities.

Hashim Yeomans-Benford is an organizer for the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots strategy and action center that works for racial and economic justice in Miami and beyond.