OPINION: Fighting for Our Children and Working Families

By Laphonza Butler, President, SEIU-ULTCW

Last month, the LA Times revealed the seemingly invisible and little talked about toll the Great Recession has had on America’s children.  The article reviewed a study recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found that while 42% of American households are struggling to make ends-meet, 44% of California families are living in poverty.

Just a few weeks ago, the EDD office of California announced that while the national unemployment rate is at 9 percent, the unemployment rate for the state has increased to 12%. For Los Angeles County alone, the unemployment rate for African Americans is at 19% and 14% for Latinos.

This month also marks “Hunger Action Month,” which focuses on raising awareness on the fact that in the US, 1 in 6 hard-working adults and 1 in 4 children go to bed hungry each night.

In the community of Watts, the lack of jobs is a severe reality as the unemployment rate is estimated at 44%.

There is a very real divide between what is said in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue and what happens here on Main Street. How do we begin to care for the innocent child who doesn’t know why mommy or daddy can’t afford to buy food or new school supplies? In a time when our children are impacted so greatly, we can’t afford to wait for someone else.  We all have to share in the responsibility of OUR children.

On Saturday, United Long Term Care Workers hosted our 2nd annual Fresh Start Fest at Ted Watkins Park in Watts to do exactly that – give families a fresh start before the beginning of the school year. About 12,000 people came out to enjoy a day at the park, and perhaps set aside their troubles. With haircuts, backpack giveaways, food, entertainment and a health fair, the day in the park was more than just about freebies.

It was an opportunity for families hit the hardest to know that they are not alone in their struggle, to find some solace in the smile of a stranger, the laughter of a child.

The fight for social and economic justice is a fight we should all be involved in. From the wealthiest areas of our fair city, to the most disenfranchised – to really be our brother’s keeper is to live the example we speak.

To be an Angeleno is to know that we are all in this together, and it is only together that we will help our brothers and sisters lift themselves out of poverty. A child cannot lift himself by his own bootstraps if he does not have boots to begin with.

Young people like Shirenn Thompson, whom I met recently at the Good Jobs LA summit in Inglewood, only recently turned 18, is homeless, out of work and doing the very best she can to attend Santa Monica City College. She takes the bus from South LA to Santa Monica because she knows an education is her ticket out of poverty.

This is the tenacity and drive of young Americans that need our elected leaders to stop pointing fingers and get to work.

Whether we have the Presidential Address on Wednesday or Thursday or if we have the GOP Presidential debate on Monday or Tuesday, neither debate reflects the urgency of the challenges facing our children.

Meanwhile, it’s one more night that children go hungry, one more night that parents wonder how they will pay the rent, one more night where working men and women wonder when and where they will find their next job.

The clock is ticking, rent is due. Is this the American Dream we all wish for ourselves and each other? Are these the values of our Nation?

Let us remember that in the American spirit of innovation and strength of working people, we all deserve to lead a quality of life that is filled with dignity and honor. We all deserve a right to good jobs, safe neighborhoods and healthy families.  Especially OUR children.

Together, as true Angelenos, we can make a difference.

“Laphonza Butler is the President of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW) the largest local in the state, second largest in the nation representing 180,000 home-care and nursing home workers.”