CBC Concentrates On Linking Job Seekers, Employers

The Congressional Black Caucus is hosting fairs and town hall meetings around the U.S. as part of its "For The People Job Initiative." Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) attended the first job fair in Cleveland last week, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is in Detriot today for the second fair. Both speak with guest host Tony Cox.

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TONY COX, host: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, Somalia is suffering through a historic famine and things are getting worse. The newest concern is that millions of dollars in aid to famine victims is reportedly being intercepted by terrorist groups or stolen by thugs. We'll get the latest on efforts to secure help for those in need. That's in a few moments.

But first, President Obama is on the second day of a campaign-style bus tour of the Midwest. Creating jobs is his top priority, he told the crowd yesterday in Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

President BARACK OBAMA: Think about it, our biggest challenge right now is putting people to work. Biggest challenge is getting the economy growing as rapidly as it needs to grow. It's been growing. We've been able to reverse the recession. We've added over two million jobs in the private sector over the last 17 months.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: But we're not growing it as fast as we need to to drive down the unemployment rate in a significant way and to give people confidence.

COX: That confidence has been undermined by a stubbornly high national unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent. It's even worse for African-Americans who's 15.9 percent jobless rate is nearly double that of whites and is the highest of any racial group in the country.

As a result, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are taking on the task of bridging that gap by conducting a series of five job fairs in hard-hit cities around the nation. It's called the For The People Jobs Initiative, and it kicked off in Cleveland last week, attracting an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The fair continues today in Detroit before moving on to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles.

To talk more about the initiative, we have Democratic Congresswoman Marcia Fudge who joins us from her home in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Also with us Congressional Black Caucus founding member John Conyers of Detroit who joins us from the motor city, where he is hosting the second stop of the job fair tour. Welcome to both of you.

Representative MARCIA FUDGE: Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE: Thanks, Tony.

COX: Congressman Conyers, let me begin with you, because the jobs fair is going on as we speak in Detroit. What's the turn out been?

, DEMOCRAT, MICHIGAN: Well, it's in the hundreds. It's probably in the thousands by now, and the lines that go all the way outside the building. We're slowing down the process because there are so many people in here and we've got 70 companies that are taking applications. So, we're feeling really great and it's pretty upbeat. I ran into one fellow. He said he'd been standing in lines for years, but he thinks this might be the ticket.

COX: What kind of jobs are we talking about that are being offered or at least interviewed for?

, DEMOCRAT, MICHIGAN: Well, there's every kind. The big companies like Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Google, and Sprint, Coca Cola, Target, General Electric, they have everything starting from entry level jobs up to professional jobs. And so, it's a huge range of employment opportunities.

COX: Congresswoman Fudge, let's talk about what happened in Cleveland last week. As we said in the introduction, there were an estimated 7,000 people showing up to find jobs. How successful do you think the effort was?

FUDGE: I believe it was very successful. I mean, we are every day receiving calls from people or messages from people saying: I got a job, thank you, thank you, thank you. And we have started to follow up with the, you know, more than 120 employers we had to find out where they are in the process. I think it was extremely successful.

COX: Now, I have read that the people that attended were not just African-Americans that they were people of all ethnic backgrounds.

FUDGE: Absolutely. Probably one-third of those who attended our job fair were not African-American.

COX: What was the target, and perhaps both of you can speak to this, that the CBC had in terms of the number of jobs you would like to see people get by the end of the five-city jobs tour? Congressman Conyers, how many jobs are you trying to connect people to?

, DEMOCRAT, MICHIGAN: I don't know but the general answer is as many as they can.

FUDGE: Right.

, DEMOCRAT, MICHIGAN: I mean, the whole notion that 5 percent unemployment is acceptable I think is really quite an outdated idea. This country can go for full employment so that no one that wants to work is out of a job. It's a matter of matching up all these incredible opportunities with the people who are seeking work. And by the way, there are a lot of people that have given up. So when you say 15 percent unemployment, I'd say 31 percent unemployment in Detroit.

COX: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

Our guests, Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. We're talking about the Congressional Black Caucus' For The People Jobs Initiative.

I'd like to come back to you, Congresswoman Fudge, to talk about Cleveland last week. Do you need to and is there a plan to follow up to make sure that people don't go to these fairs get interviewed and yet don't get actually hired at some point?

FUDGE: No question about it. We have a plan. We have started, as I suggested, to follow-up with each employer. One of the things that was different about this kind of a job fair is that every single employer came with a certain number of jobs committed. Some of our largest employers said, I have 400 jobs for you today, others as low as two or three. But we want to do is make sure that they do fill those positions.

We talked to one of the banks actually the other day. I was in a meeting with him. He says, I have so many resumes, the 50 jobs I committed I know that I'm going to be able to fill. One of our companies said they interviewed 1,000 people that day and they were confident that they had enough good resumes and/or applications to hire their numbers that they promised.

So, the thing that I think that was most important about this job fair is what the congressman was saying. We have people in our community who have not worked in years. These aren't just people who were just laid off or who were just hit by this particular recession. They've been in a recession for a very long time.

COX: Well, that raises the question then - and either you or Congressman Conyers can respond to it - for people who have been out of work for an extended period of time, was it just a matter of holding the jobs fair and putting them in the presence of an employer? And if it was that easy, why hasn't it been done before now?

FUDGE: I don't know that it was necessarily that easy, but it does help in fact to look at the skill levels of some of your people and make sure that there are people in place to give them at least the opportunity to sit in front of them and talk about a job. Yes, it is very difficult to put employers and employees together. I know it sounds like it would be simple, but it really isn't. And so people get discouraged very, very quickly when they've gone to five or 10 or 100 places and have not received even an interview.

But if we can put people and employers together I think it does make a huge difference and it gives people hope knowing that someone is out here working on their behalf, because many of them don't have the wherewithal. Poor people, in general, don't have computers. They may go to the library and stand in line for two or three hours to apply to someplace online. I mean, it's a difficult situation.

COX: Well, let me ask you, Congressman Conyers, the more political side of this issue with regard to the CBC's disagreement perhaps is too light a word with the president over his approach to creating jobs specifically for the African-American community. The chairman of the CBC has said, and I quote that "The president has one agenda. We have another agenda altogether." Why do you think that is?

Representative JOHN CONYERS: Well, the president is talking about jobs and nobody talks as good as the president. But the question is, what is the federal plan? And I've got a jobs bill. The congressional caucus has yet another jobs bill, but the president's got to get behind something. Just bragging about jobs and the importance of it is not going to get it. And this is what the jobs fair does, as Marcia Fudge said.

COX: Well, do you want the president of the United States to specifically foster a plan to get African-Americans to work?

FUDGE: Well, can I respond?

COX: Yes.

FUDGE: Let me say it to you this way. There are certain populations in this country that have been hit much harder by the economic conditions we find ourselves in than others.

I believe that there should be targeted programs and efforts in these communities. And, yes, some of those communities would be African-American, clearly, probably at the top. But they would also be Latino. They would also be Appalachians. I mean, it would be a diverse group. But, yes, I do think there should be some targeting towards those communities that have been hit the hardest and have suffered the longest.

COX: And why do you think the president has not, in your opinion, done that so far?

FUDGE: Well, you know, I don't know. That's hard to tell. I mean, I think that there are a lot of us who are looking at ways to assist the president in trying to pull together a jobs program. But as Mr. Conyers says, the CBC has actually introduced 40 job creating bills, none of which have either gotten out of committee or to the floor.

We are not necessarily at odds with the president. We just have decided to take it upon ourselves to do something that we believe should be done through a comprehensive program out of Washington.

And so, until such time as that, we're going to keep trying to help our people and let people know that we understand how they are suffering and hurting in communities like Detroit, like Cleveland, like Atlanta and L.A. and Miami.

COX: Congresswoman Marcia Fudge represents the 11th District of Ohio. She joined us on the phone from her home in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Congressman John Conyers represents the 14th District in Michigan. He joined us on the line from Detroit. Thank you both for coming on.

FUDGE: Thank you.

CONYERS: The pleasure is mine.

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