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Public Statements

The Civil Rights Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. JACKSON of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, the greatest threat to our democracy is unemployment. We all know the numbers. We all have far too many constituents who don't have jobs and can't provide for their families.

Too many Americans are without work, and more and more of them are losing hope. Unemployment benefits are running out. Fear is creeping in. But for some of the unemployed, their tireless job search has been coming up empty because some employers won't even consider them for openings.

Recently, The New York Times reported that one employer listed a job that included the caveat: "No unemployed candidate will be considered at all,'' and a Texas electronics company said that it won't "consider/review anyone not currently employed, regardless of the reason.'' It is reminiscent of a time when signs read: Blacks need not apply, or Women need not apply.

Mr. Speaker, I think it's high time that we fix that. How are the unemployed supposed to find work if they don't even get considered for a job? How do we expect the unemployment rate to go down when the unemployed aren't even available or allowed to compete for a job?

Along with Congressman John Lewis, I'm introducing legislation that will amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against applicants because they are currently or were currently unemployed.

The Civil Rights Act of 2011 will not give a job to those who are unemployed, but it will give those who are unemployed through no fault of their own the opportunity to compete for a job on the merits of their ability.

Mr. Speaker, we talk in pleasantries and political correctness about "these difficult economic times.'' We debate policy and hold hearings on how to move America forward, but recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics had to modify its current population survey to be able to include responses reporting a duration of unemployment over 2 years.

We are making room for the reality of chronic unemployment in America in very real ways, while promising it will get better. I think we need to do more to make sure that people have opportunities.

Nearly 9 percent of Americans right now are unemployed. That's 13.9 million Americans that we represent as Members of Congress who are looking for the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. They are looking for Washington and to Washington for leadership and to keep things from getting any worse.

They are writing our offices begging us to help them jump-start America. They are not just looking for a hand out. They are looking for a way out, just a chance so that they can take care of the rest. They are hoping that the next interview will mean a new start.

Mr. Speaker, the job market is troublesome; but we cannot allow companies to arbitrarily pick who will come out of the economic crisis by disqualifying unemployed workers. It should not be their right to discriminate this way.

We, as a Nation, face triumphs and challenges together. It seems to me that to allow such a practice is counterintuitive to everything that Congress is working towards. Why create jobs if those Americans currently without jobs are not eligible?

Just because an individual was unlucky to be laid off or had the misfortune to graduate into a jobless market does not mean that we should just cast them aside.

This employment practice adds insult to injury for Americans who are desperately looking for jobs, for college graduates who debate if their education was worth the cost, for families who are trying to make more on less.

Those who live on Main Street of America had very little to do with the onset of our economic crisis. In response, they are doing what generations before us have taught, carrying on, hoping that the darkness will give way to light.

Mr. Speaker, if we allow employers to block consideration for those who are unemployed, we let that light get a little dimmer. We allow the American Dream to be tarnished. We send a message to the American people, those who are currently unemployed and those who are one bad break away from unemployment, that we will bail out banks but not support them as they fight to take care of their families.

The Civil Rights Act and the amendments that have followed demonstrate what makes America exceptional. Here, regardless of the color of your skin, the god you pray to, your ethnicity, your age or sex, you will be judged on your performance. We haven't always lived up to our principles, but it is the collective momentum towards these values that makes America great.

Discrimination against any American is an affront to the very idea of America. A new class of citizen now needs protection from the superficial bias that is not based on the ability to perform. Using current employment status as a requirement for application or consideration is shameful.

There are 13.9 million Americans currently unemployed; that means 13.9 million Americans are considered by some employers to be no longer viable for employment. They are dismissed out of hand.

But, Mr. Speaker, I refuse to believe that every unemployed individual is unqualified for a job. It is an arbitrary way of narrowing an applicant pool by finding a loophole that allows discrimination.

I ask each and every Member of Congress to stand with me and to say to those 13.9 million Americans who are unemployed, you are not forgotten, your chance has not passed. We should pass the Civil Rights Act of 2011. We should not allow the opportunities that all Americans deserve to be taken away. Current joblessness should not disqualify you from employment. Your ability is more valuable than any label ever placed upon you.

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