President Barack Obama is proposing several measures his administration says will create millions of jobs and stimulate the sluggish economy. The nation's high unemployment rate has hit minority groups in the United States especially hard. Nearly three-million African Americans are having a hard time finding work after several years of massive job losses.
Long lines at corporate job hiring fairs illustrate just how many Americans are looking for work. The situation is especially dire for African Americans. David Baker is looking for work in the banking industry in Los Angeles. "I have applied for, I would have to say, pretty close to over 300 jobs in the last year," he said.
The U.S. Labor Department says the nation's unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9. 1 percent. But the jobless figure for African Americans is nearly double, at 16.7 percent, the highest its been since 1984.
Economist Heidi Shierholz is with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington "So what we are seeing now with the black unemployment rate is actually what we would expect given the overall state of weakness in the labor market. What we are experiencing here is just a profound lack of jobs across the board and that hits racial and ethnic minorities harder," Shierholz said.
Some African Americans job-seekers say even in sectors that are hiring, like healthcare, the competition is fierce.
"While I was in school I thought it would have been easier. I said to myself as soon as I get out I will get a job because there is such a shortage of nurses all over. But it has been difficult, since December I have been looking for work," said one job seeker.
President Barack Obama says high unemployment is holding down economic growth. He is asking lawmakers to approve a series of measures his administration believes will create jobs. "Our economy has to grow faster. We have to create more jobs and we have to do it faster," Obama said.
Analysts say there is also political pressure on Obama from African Americans supporters to fight for those hit hardest by the economic downturn. Marc Morial is president of the National Urban League. "If he [President Obama] recommends a bold and imaginative jobs plan there will be those on the far right [Conservative Republicans] who howl in disagreement. But there will be those in Americas urban communities in Americas rural communities the weak, the disadvantaged, that will cheer we need a jobs plan," Morial stated.
One program the Obama Administration wants to invest in targets assistance for the long-term unemployed.
Jacklyn Willis has been out of work for six months. Now she is in a program that gives unemployed workers eight weeks of training at selected companies at no cost to the employer. "It is a win, win scenario. I decided that if I could go somewhere and volunteer for a while to see if it is a fit for me, and they [the company] get to see if it is a fit for them, then there is nothing to lose," Willis noted.
The plan has already shown results in states like Georgia where nearly a quarter of workers in the program were hired by the company at which they trained. Sixty percent of those in the program found work elsewhere.
Shierholz says direct government hiring programs are needed in African-American and other minority communities. "The key thing in a program like that is that the decisions about where that money would be best employed would be up to local leaders. And there would be some strings attached along the lines of a certain percentage of this stimulus money has to be spent on wages and those projects would be labor intensive," she said.
Economists say high unemployment especially for African Americans could remain high for several years. Community leaders are hopeful that some type of government plan can provide faster relief for millions looking for work now.