Putting America Back To Work
Last week, before a joint session of Congress, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act, a series of proposed tax cuts, infrastructure investments, reforms in unemployment insurance and other measures designed to spur economic recovery and put Americans back to work. Yesterday, the American Jobs Act was sent to Congress.
With the American economy still struggling to find solid ground, the American Jobs Act is a strong opening in our national debate over how to create more jobs. That being said, as we begin our national conversation on growing the American economy, we cannot forget about the most vulnerable members of our society, the ones who have been hit hardest by the recession – and whom the American Jobs Act does not go far enough in helping.
For example, President Obama’s proposed investments in neighborhoods nationwide is commendable, but I cannot help but think of the long road ahead in making housing affordable for all Americans. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2010, the average U.S. employee needs to make $18.44 per hour (more than twice the federal minimum wage) to afford a two-bedroom rental while also being able to pay for food and other necessities. Having a home to call your own is more than the American Dream – it is a fundamental right, a basic necessity. Without a roof over your head, the thought of looking for a meal, let alone a job, is a challenge.
That is not to say that the American Jobs Act is all bad – on the contrary, the bill will provide much-needed help for many Americans. For the unemployed, particularly those who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the proposed extension of unemployment insurance is a particular source of relief. The Reform Movement has consistently supported extensions of unemployment insurance in the past, and we welcome the President’s proposal to extend the program, preventing more than 6 million people from losing their unemployment checks at the end of the year.
Young Americans will also be helped by President Obama’s proposed investment in school facilities. Personal growth through education is at the very heart of our Judaism. Indeed, Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis resolutions have hailed public schools as “a great bastion of true democracy” and “one of the most powerful forces in unifying a nation of disparate peoples.” But too often, our schools are hindered by decades-old facilities, rendering them unable to meet the needs of those who walk their halls. President Obama’s efforts to modernize approximately one out of every three public schools are a strong start, and these kinds of investments in America’s infrastructure will also help put people back to work.
The American Jobs Act would represent a significant next step in our national recovery, and Congress should act swiftly. We all must make sure, though, that in our race to prosperity we do not condemn the most vulnerable members of society to be trapped in the dust.
Ian Hainline is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant.