Congressional Black Caucus Holds Jobs Tour

fromWABE

The Congressional Black Caucus has been holding a jobs tour around the country. On Thursday, the tour stopped in Atlanta where thousands of people turned out looking for work. This event comes on the same week that President Obama was also on the road.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: After Labor Day, the White House says President Obama will release new proposals for job creation. In the meantime, the Congressional Black Caucus has been highlighting the particularly steep unemployment rate among African-Americans. The CBC's jobs tour has been visiting cities to help connect blacks with potential employers. Yesterday, it stopped in Atlanta, and Charles Edwards of member station WABE was there.

CHARLES EDWARDS: On a hot Georgia day, Courtney Williams is in a suit, and she's walking to the back of a very long line.

COURTNEY WILLIAMS: This is normal from what I've been going through.

EDWARDS: The former school teacher has been unemployed for a year. She's one of thousands of African-Americans here holding their resumes in one hand and hope in the other outside a job fair in Atlanta. Williams will have to wait at least two hours with no guarantee of a job, let alone an interview.

WILLIAMS: It's been tough. I mean, it's been tough. A lot of people are saying that I'm overqualified. A lot of people don't have a lot of openings. They're not really looking to hire people. So it's been tough.

EDWARDS: It's also been tough for Alex Adams. A telecommunications company laid him off two years ago. He's gone from being a marketing director to working part time in a warehouse.

ALEX ADAMS: My last job was close to six figures.

EDWARDS: And can you give me a range of what you're making now between jobs?

ADAMS: Oh...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ADAMS: ...not even a third of what I was making before.

Representative MAXINE WATERS: Unless you have something like this, you don't even get a sense of how bad it is in America.

EDWARDS: To find out how bad it is, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus said they wanted to get out of Washington.

WATERS: We focused so much on raising the debt ceiling before we left, jobs got off the agenda. People have talked about creating infrastructure jobs. They talked about green jobs, but nothing has happened.

EDWARDS: And Waters says it needs to happen, especially for black people whose 16 percent unemployment rate is double that of whites. Before Atlanta, the caucus' job fair was in Cleveland and Detroit. It's going next to Miami and then Los Angeles. The caucus is just one of a chorus of voices concerned President Obama's policies aren't doing enough to help black people. As an example, Waters says, Mr. Obama compromised too much in the debt ceiling debate.

WATERS: The only thing that I think the president should be aware of is people want him to fight. They said, don't back down from the Tea Party. Don't let them have their way.

EDWARDS: Waters says several caucus bills targeting the black unemployment rate are stuck in the Republican-controlled House. Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, says marches may not be the answer this time, but something has to give.

Representative JOHN LEWIS: As representatives of people, we have a moral obligation to stand up, to speak up, to speak out and do what I call get in the way. Sometimes, you have to make some noise. You have to disturb the order of things.

EDWARDS: Back in that long line, Ernestine Shipman waits her turn to enter. She used to own a Quizno's fast food restaurant, but it went under in March. Shipman's glad the mostly Democratic Congressional Black Caucus put on the job fair, but she wants more than just talk.

ERNESTINE SHIPMAN: The Republicans are trying to make their hand show, and the Democrats are trying to make their hand show, and the people are suffering in the process.

EDWARDS: Shipman says this isn't the first job fair she's stood in line for, and so far, she's yet to leave any of them with an employment offer. For NPR News, I'm Charles Edwards in Atlanta.

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