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.”


Thousands of hopefuls attend South LA job fair

imageMore than 10,000 people flocked to the Crenshaw Christian Center with hopes of finding a job. Today’s job fair in South LA is the fifth and final stop of the “For the People” national jobs initiative tour. The event, which took place from 9 am to 5 pm, was organized by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and co-hosted by Reps. Laura Richardson and Karen Bass.

Applicants lined up as early as 3 am, aiming to get a head start on any available jobs. Corey Willis, who was laid off in July, arrived at 8 am to find a traffic jam on Vermont Ave. as people tried to find their way into the center. “It was crazy. There were all these cars backed up. When I got in, I heard people saying they had been in line since 3 am.”

Job seekers were given a pep talk by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Waters, who offered tips for successful job hunting, before being led out to the center’s parking lot where multiple tents had been set up for employers to talk to prospective employees.

Faye Washington, unemployed the past four years, hopes to find a job.

“Coming and seeing all these people here gives you a sense of how many unemployed people there are in Los Angeles,” says Fae Washington, an accountant who has been unemployed for almost four years. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people out of work. I don’t believe even with all these employers here they can give a job to everyone here. And that’s sad.” She says she has gone to many job fairs during the past four years, but this is the biggest one she’s ever been to. Even so, she’s not very hopeful she’ll land a job here. “I’m job fair’ed out,” she exclaims. Washington, like many others at the fair, is frustrated at the lack of opportunities. “It’s the first time in my entire life I don’t have a full time job. This economy is killing the middle class.”

Event organizers say more than 170 employers such as Fry’s, Vons, Delta Airlines and Home Depot, to name a few, took part in the job fair. Only employers that had immediate job openings were allowed to participate. Many people waited patiently to speak to company representatives hoping to secure actual interviews, but were upset to find out they were telling people to go online to fill out applications.

Corey Willis was expecting to at least get a job interview at the job fair.

“The bottom line is we need a job,” says Willis. “And we’re not getting them. We’re just getting how to apply to the jobs.”

CBC spokeswoman Stephanie Young points out the fair “is an opportunity to connect with people face to face. They can tell people whether they qualify for a job. There is good in this even if you have to go to a website.”

Other “For the People” job fairs were previously held in Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta and Miami.

Workers raise awareness about high level of unemployment

imageListen to the audio story here:

On a Saturday morning in South Los Angeles, construction workers gathered to help spruce up the Paul Robeson Community Center. They also wanted to raise awareness about the high level of unemployment, especially among black workers.

The Paul Robeson Center, known for its longstanding commitment to youth in the community, gave space to the Black Workers Center in Los Angeles, free of charge, in exchange for time to make much-needed upgrades to the community center.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas showed support for the day of service. He pledged he would help bring jobs to the community. There is more than $2 million in construction jobs that await Los Angeles County.

Of the nine percent of African-Americans who reside in Los Angeles County, about 30 percent are in low-wage jobs. Another 20 percent did not work last year.

The day was hot, but it also served as a reminder that there is a need for more jobs in Los Angeles.

BLOG: How unemployment will change the attitude of young America

We acquire the strength we have overcome. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Being a young person entering the job market in today’s economic climate can be disheartening. With six people competing for every one vacancy, the likeliness of being under-qualified and under-experienced in comparison to your competitors – many of whom have been working for years – is high. But being young and unemployed is better than being middle-aged and unemployed, right? Perhaps not, according to an article in this month’s Atlantic magazine titled, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” by Don Peck. Young adults may never recover from their experiences during the first few years of job hunting.

A study conducted by Lisa Kahn, an economist at Yale, showed that young workers entering the job market during a recession will earn less wages in their lifetime than those who find a job during more prosperous times. And young adults of the Recession will never close that gap in earnings:

Seventeen years after graduation, those who had entered the workforce during inhospitable times were still earning 10 percent less on average than those who had emerged into a more bountiful climate.

The “unlucky” graduates were also less likely to be in professional careers, and much less likely to change jobs. “This behavior may have resulted from a lingering risk aversion, born of a tough start,” explains Peck. In other words, young adults today may be fearful for the rest of their lives – too afraid to pursue other career opportunities or take risks. But this new attitude might also be beneficial – at least for a portion of today’s youth.

Sociologists have highlighted a worrying trend in young, middle-class Americans, which many attribute simply to a upsurge in “optimism.” They have “much higher material expectations than previous generations,” writes Peck, after being told by their parents that they are “special,” can do anything they want and be anyone they want to be. This also makes it harder for “Generation Y” (as they have been termed) to cope with the qualities required by today’s job market, including “perseverance, adaptability, humility and entrepreneurialsm.” These young people, apparently, are likely to turn down jobs that they don’t feel are good enough, even if they have no other options.

Perhaps, then, a cold hard dose of reality will be enough to bring these kids back down to Earth. Unless their parents continue to bail them out. “According to a recent Pew survey,” writes Peck, “10 percent of adults younger than 35 have moved back in with their parents as a result of the recession.”

Nice for some. But what if your parents can’t afford to keep you?

Those with a lower socio-economic status no doubt have a different story to tell. And what about race? Well, Peck hardly touches this subject, except to say that more areas in the country may come to look like the “inner cities of the 1970s and ’80s.” In other words, he’s talking about middle-class white families beginning to suffer the same ailments that poor, Black and Latino communities have been suffering for decades.

African-American and Latino men have been the hardest hit by a trim job market, and their children are no exception. In addition to the financial burden of unemployment, teenagers growing up in homes with unemployed fathers are more likely to be victims of abuse. And much less likely, no doubt, to suffer from the unfailing “optimism” that Peck talks about. Hopelessness still pervades these communities, and young people coming up against a brick wall when they turn to look for a job will only make that feeling worse. At least, however, hardship doesn’t come as a shock to these children, who might even be better prepared for a tough job market than more affluent peers.