U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, right, speaks with Congress member Karen Bass at the Jobs and Economy Summit, Tuesday, April 26, 2011 Los Angeles. (Photo/U.S. Department of Labor, Susan Goldman)
By Shirley Hawkins
Sentinel Contributing Writer
Dozens of community residents, activists and non-profit administrators gathered at the California Science Center’s Muses Room last Tuesday to attend a Jobs and Economic Recovery Summit hosted by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and attended by keynote speaker U. S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
Attendees listened attentively as Bass reflected on Obama’s efforts to put the nation on a path towards economic recovery, and Solis delivered an update on how Obama’s policies have helped to spur economic growth in South Los Angeles. The summit was held to focus on how these policies have benefited Los Angeles and the 33rd district.
The event was moderated by Althea Gibson, president of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce and was also attended by Diane Factor, director of the Worker Education and Resource Center; Gene Hale, president of G&C Equipment Corporation; Elsa Barbosa, campaign director of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), and Kevin Considine, president and CEO of the Hollywood Cinema Production Resources Motion Picture Television Program, which partners with West Los Angeles College.
“You know, when President Obama took office in January of 2009, the previous administration had left the national debt at $10.6 trillion,” Bass said in her opening remarks. “The stock market had collapsed, we were involved in two wars, and there was a foreclosure crisis that hit us especially hard here in California.
“Under this president, we have seen the economy start to come back, the unemployment rate has begun to decline, and the stock market is on the rise. And yet, there are a lot of critics who seem to think that in his first two years this President should have been able to undo the economic damage that it took President Bush eight years to create,” Bass asserted.
“It’s precisely because of this administration’s policies that our nation is beginning to bounce back, and that is in no small part due to efforts of our guest today, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis,” said Bass.
Los Angeles native Solis assured the audience that the economy has been steadily improving. “The country was on the brink; four million jobs had been lost when he (Obama) was (elected) president,” said Solis. “We would have lost millions of more jobs if the re-investment money had not been provided.”
Solis added that the administration has extended unemployment for seven million people and created 1.8 million private sector jobs, including a number of jobs in the manufacturing sector.
“In order to stimulate economic growth, we need to create new and better paying jobs for our growing population-simply replacing existing jobs with different ones will not grow our economy,” Solis observed. “The most recent employment numbers show that there were 40,200 more jobs in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in February 2011 than in February 2010. Still, we are not where we need to be, but we are well on our way. I’m proud of the work we have done at the Labor Department to help train workers for the jobs of tomorrow.”
She added that there would be cuts to the budget, but felt that the cuts should not include seniors and young people. “I believe government should help to be a balancing act and help provide a level playing field,” she said.
In a brief press conference held after the summit, Bass acknowledged that stimulus money has been slow in reaching communities of color.
“One thing that has been frustrating to everybody down the line is that of all the money that was allocated out of Washington, there’s still a large percentage (of recovery money) that has not made it to the streets. A lot of the money is still bottled in Sacramento,” she said. “We need to stay on top of the recovery dollars and do what we can to advocate for those dollars being released.”
A topic that dominated the summit was the need for equity in the labor and construction trades for African Americans. Bass added that the (legislature) has been working with various labor unions to insure that more African Americans enter the building programs and the construction trades.
With many community residents pounding the pavement attempting to seek employment in a tough economy, Bass urged job seekers to consider the entertainment and health care industries.
“The entertainment industry is interested in diversifying their workforce,” she said. “That is an industry our young people need to look at.”
She urged older workers to examine the health care industry. “Health care is an area where age is not an issue,” Bass observed. “You can become a phlebotomist or a nurse. I think health care is a great profession for older individuals. I definitely think it is something they need to look at.”
Several attendees expressed hope that Obama’s stimulus package would jump start more employment opportunities in South Los Angeles, but expressed frustration that progress to attract jobs locally had so far been slow to nonexistent.
“There needs to be more jobs created, especially for African American men in South Los Angeles,” observed Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and chief executive officer of the Brotherhood Crusade.
Ted Booker, a member of the United Job Creation Council, agreed. “I was a placement officer for the Light Year Rail,” said Booker, who added that he noticed that most of construction jobs on the project were eventually filled by Hispanics. “African Americans only comprised about 10 to 20 percent of the workers on the (Light Year Rail) project.”
Pausing, he added, “There used to be more African Americans on construction jobs. I think there definitely needs to be a conversation about equity. I don’t know what caused the change in hiring, but it exists.”
Lula Balton, director of Community and Economic Development for the Church of God and Christ International, also hoped the stimulus money would eventually generate jobs for the local community. She noted that many local families were being hit hard by the recession. “We need to support our families and children by providing livable wages,” Balton said.
Viola Davis, executive director of the South Los Angeles Work Source Center, affirmed that age disparity had also become a barrier to employment. “The mature worker who might be 50 and 60 years old is now competing for jobs with youngsters,” she observed. “If you have a 55-year-old and a 22-year-old competing for the same job, guess which person the employer is going to hire? The 22-year-old.”