Giving jobless a voice at the White House

Each year for weeks in advance of it, my Jesuit Volunteer assistant and I go out into the streets with clip boards and sign up jobseekers for the all day job fair we hold on the holiday that commemorates Martin Luther King’s birthday. We hear hard-luck stories, voices of frustration and amazing words of hope from the hundreds of desperate persons we meet who are looking for steady work. Their voices stay with me wherever I go. I took them with me to Washington, DC.

I am sincerely humbled that Dec. 3 I had the occasion, thanks to my congressman, Elijah Cummings, to go to the White House for breakfast with the president’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, and 10 other persons in the West Wing of the White House. Three hours later I attended the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Recovery with 130 attendees from business, government and some national nonprofits such as the American Federation of Teachers and AARP. I met Robert Reich, secretary of labor during the Clinton administration and the heads of ATT, Xerox and Pacific Gas and Electric among others that afternoon.

I asked Dave Bing, former NBA star player for the Pistons if he ever played in the Baltimore Civic Center. He said he loved playing here. He is now mayor of the city of Detroit. He knows what joblessness looks like.

The president spent a lot of time with us. Not surprisingly, in the same week he announced sending more troops to Afghanistan, he indicated at the beginning of the job summit that he had limited government funding for a jobs creation program (no WPA type program will be forthcoming).

Lots of ideas were tossed around. Although I spoke quite a bit at breakfast about micro-financing, the concept advanced by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and the emergent need for getting dollars to the street level where they are needed most, I mostly listened in the afternoon session on workforce to which I was assigned. It was facilitated by Hilda L. Solis, the current secretary of labor and Melody Barnes, the director of the domestic policy council.

The president re-joined us after the work sessions and spent more than an hour discussing some of the ideas that were brought forth. An idea I found striking was the one to give tax breaks to businesses that would bring jobs back from overseas – every bit helps. More aid to community colleges, funds for stipends for jobs programs – all sorts of ideas were mentioned.

When we returned there, a White House staffer type invited some of us to move to the front row of the auditorium for the closing session. The mayor of Allentown, Pa., Ed Pawlowski, and I moved up. We had been sitting together all day. Coincidentally, the next day the president was to visit factories in Allentown that are thriving.

Obama came off the stage at the end of the program and shook hands with everyone on the front row. I shook hands with him, chatted very briefly with him and he patted me on the shoulder and turned away.

It was one of the most exciting days of my life. This year’s MLK Job Fair will take place on Jan. 18 at St. Frances Academy Community Center, 501 E. Chase St. It will once again include job readiness classes, light breakfast and a hot lunch for all attendees. Also, a blood drive conducted by the Archdiocesan Office of African American Ministries will once again take place in the cafeteria. Employers, volunteers and about 300 to 500 flash drives for the job seekers are needed. For further information or to help, call me at 410-539-5794, ext. 30.

The president is understanding more and more – jobs are needed now!

Ralph E. Moore Jr. is director of the Community Center at St. Frances Academy.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.