Black Caucus Wants to Get You a Job

Frustrated by inaction from Capitol Hill, the CBC is trying a new line of attack on unemployment: a traveling job fair with a twist.

Job seekers on break at a job fair (Getty Images)
Job seekers on break at a job fair (Getty Images)

Things have not been working out for the Congressional Black Caucus. Between its 43 members, this year the organization has introduced 40 different jobs bills to address the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent (and 16.2 percent for African Americans in particular). They’ve met twice with President Obama on the issue. But their legislative efforts haven’t gained enough support to pass through Congress. So they’ve decided to sidestep the usual tactics with a new approach: hitting the road for a multicity jobs tour.

Scheduled to kick off in Chicago this summer, the CBC’s For the People Jobs Initiative will host job fairs in some of the country’s most economically distressed cities, including Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles. More than just job fairs, however, each two-day stop will also incorporate a town hall meeting in which job seekers can offer feedback and describe their employment challenges.

The CBC plans to continue introducing legislation based on this community response. At the tour’s end, the organization will commission a newly created CBC jobs advisory council of top black economic and business experts, to draft a report tying together each component of the initiative. The report will detail the outcomes of each event and propose a long-term solution for job creation and economic growth.

Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the CBC, spoke exclusively to The Root about the new jobs initiative. He revealed his irritation with Senate Democrats, the first steps of a possible bipartisan approach to dealing with black unemployment and why he believes the CBC is doing its part.

The Root: Why did you decide to launch the For the People Jobs Initiative?

Emanuel Cleaver: The Congressional Black Caucus is frustrated over the issue of jobs, or the lack thereof. There are a lot of people talking about it, but after all is said and done, there’s always more said than done. So we decided that we would put something in place that could create employment opportunities for people around the country, and the discussion eventually led to this jobs tour that we will be launching shortly.

TR: Last week the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced that it will also be launching a jobs tour this summer. Why didn’t the two caucuses combine efforts, and how are they different from each other?

EC: Most of the CBC members, me included, are members of the Progressive Caucus. However, I’ve explained to the chairs of the Progressive Caucus that what they are doing needs to be done — they are going around the country, joined by labor unions, and they will have rallies drawing attention to the unacceptably high levels of unemployment in this country. They’re hoping that, through generating a great deal of attention on joblessness, it might force Congress to begin to take some action.

We, on the other hand, are not going to do a symbolic tour where jobs are not really going to present themselves. We are more of a direct-action caucus; we intend to create jobs for people.

TR: The CBC approach to jobs also includes 40 pieces of legislation that have been introduced, but last month you told The Root that “legislation won’t matter” because it can’t pass a Republican-controlled House. Are these bills more of a political statement than a viable solution?