I strongly believe that all Americans deserve the opportunity to obtain a good job and financial security. If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to put food on the table, have quality health care, fill up your gas tank, get an education, and still have just a little bit left over to save for the future.
Unfortunately, the economic situation under the Bush Administration has left millions struggling, and it is painfully evident that the nation is in a state of economic disrepair.
Last month, the unemployment rate surged to 5.5 percent – the biggest jump in more than two decades – and the number of people looking for work climbed 861,000 to 8.5 million. As bad as these numbers are, for minority populations unemployment is even more pervasive. Almost 7 percent of Latinos were unemployed in May, and the unemployment rate for African Americans was 9.7 percent, having climbed more than a full point from 8.6 percent in April. Among Black youth, almost one of three is unemployed (twice the level of White youth).
Since President Bush took office, three million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and corporations have shipped more than 525,000 white collar jobs overseas. One revealing statistic is that over 13 percent of men in their prime working years (between 25 and 54 years old) are out of work.
In California, our unemployment rate is a startling 6.2 percent, what some economists call a “recessionary unemployment rate.” And official unemployment statistics actually conceal the full depth of our problems. We don’t count those who are discouraged from looking, underpaid, underemployed, homeless, incarcerated, or forced into accepting early retirement.
Since Democrats took control of Congress last year, we have begun to make progress addressing the problems that working families face. Last year we won a victory in our long-fought battle for a “living wage” by raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. And this year I helped pass the economic stimulus package, putting hundreds of dollars into the hands of more than 130 million American families through rebate checks and rewarding small business investments in plants and equipment. Individuals are already receiving their tax rebates worth $600, and families are receiving $1200 plus $300 per child.
This year I am committed to providing much-needed unemployment insurance extensions for 3.8 million unemployed workers to assist them with rapidly rising gas and food costs while they continue to struggle to find work in the slowing economy. We have passed H.R. 5749, the Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act, in the House and are pushing for Senate action.
President Bush’s mismanagement of our economy has left us facing a housing mortgage crisis, an energy crisis, a health care crisis, and a food crisis. That the Iraq war is draining our economy at the cost of $10 billion a month while the average American is struggling reveals where the President’s priorities lie. We can’t blame President Bush and the Republicans for everything, but their policies have systematically made it more difficult for the average American to get ahead. But pointing fingers won’t create jobs, fill our gas tanks, or put food on the table. We need action.
Some of the greatest challenges we face as a country-skyrocketing energy costs, the lack of affordable health care, and our crumbling infrastructure-also offer the most potential for innovation and economic development. Through bold public policy, we can meet these challenges and spur new jobs in overcoming them.
Over the next decade we must capitalize on the potential for millions of green collar jobs that can be created as we shift away from a fossil-fuel economy. As we spur breakthroughs in solar, wind and water power, bio-fuels, and energy retrofits to increase energy efficiency and conservation, well-paying jobs will be created for manufacturers, engineers, enterprising business owners, and specialized installers.
We must make unprecedented investments in our infrastructure that has crumbled after years of Republican neglect. We can revive hundreds of thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs by rebuilding our bridges, roads, airports, sea ports, and waterways. By upgrading our infrastructure, we will also strengthen our homeland security and allow the economy to run more efficiently.
My decades-long struggle to pass universal health care legislation will, when achieved, have the added benefit of creating millions of health care industry jobs. We must find creative ways to encourage training of enough health care industry workers, including medical assistants and nurses. We need to invest more in scholarships, grants and retraining programs to attract workers to these high paying jobs.
Our economy is in tatters, families are struggling to make ends meet, and Americans are scared that the United States is falling from our podium atop the world stage. But the greatest obstacle we face is a lack of courage in bringing bold changes to confront a changing world. Now is the time for action. By harnessing our American ingenuity we will create good jobs for all Americans and push this country into the 21st century.