Will the new jobs bill help hardest hit areas?
By Jason Reece, Kirwan Institute Senior Research, Race-Talk contributor In response to our nation’s ongoing economic challenges, a new federal jobs bill is expected from Congress soon. The Kirwan Institute has been tracking the impact of federal efforts to alleviate the economic crisis for the past year. Given our experiences tracking the impact of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other federal relief programs, we are concerned that the new jobs bill will not help those communities or states in greatest need. While the federal response to the economic crisis has helped in many ways, most notably in avoiding catastrophic state budget shortfalls, it has not been able to address the extreme economic hardship facing some communities. The economic crisis is falling unevenly across our nation, impacting some states, communities and populations more than others. Hard-hit Midwestern states are reeling from foreclosures and from the continued decline of the manufacturing sector. Among some populations, disparities in unemployment by race, age or gender are vast. The “gender gap” in unemployment now stands at its highest since 1948, with unemployment rates for men surging. Michigan leads the nation in this gender divide, with nearly 1 in 5 men in the State unemployed at the end of 2009. Across racial lines, we see White unemployment starting to decline, but Black unemployment continues to grow, and now exceeds 16%. Even more troubling, the unemployment rate for Black youth is now more than 43%. Recognition of the uneven nature of the economic crisis is not reflected in much of our federal response and is not addressed in the recent jobs bill. One measure stripped from the jobs bill in recent weeks was a stipulation to target some funds to communities with high unemployment. This type of need-based targeting is critical, or we risk spreading our resources too thin, providing little relief to those communities and populations which have been devastated by the economic crisis. More diligent targeting of federal job and infrastructure investments to hard-hit communities would also provide an efficient use of our public investments. This not be an unprecedented move – the first phase of the Neighborhood Stabilization program targeted communities with high rates of foreclosure, and the U.S. Department of Transportation runs a program which encourages investment in economically distressed counties. Our measures of community need must also be accurate and robust in capturing the impact of the recession. Unfortunately, the latest attempt to prioritize states for federal housing relief did not use a measure of real need, like long-term foreclosure rates, but instead looked at housing depreciation, locking 45 states, out of 1.5 billion dollars in housing relief. If hard-hit states or communities do not push for more robust measures of addressing economic need in the next jobs bill, we may once again lose out, and not see the economic relief needed to address the state’s economic hardships. For more information about recovery tracking visit: FairRecovery.org