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Public Statements

CBC Hour

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CLEAVER. I thank the vice chair of the CBC. And to follow Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who I think hit on all of the proper and necessary areas of concerns, it has been written that ours will be the last generation in this country to experience surpassing the previous generation, that our children will not achieve what we have achieved and the jobs are not there. And while the individuals who have written about this and presented research on it are certainly brilliant and wise, I will gently rebuke them and disagree with their prediction.

I am not in any way willing to accept the fact, the fatalism, that the United States will inevitably fall to number two in the world behind China. Yesterday there was a news story that said at best there will be two superpowers equal in terms of influence and their economies: China and the United States.

This Nation that placed men on the Moon, this Nation that creates a new technology almost hourly should never surrender its place in the world to any other nation. And, further, I don't think that it is in our best interest to even give a hint that we believe that we can't continue to create jobs for the next generation.

The jobs tour that we had during the month of August was eye-opening and Earth-shattering. When we walked from our cars inside the Cleveland State University place where we held the jobs fair, there were people who had been in line since 5 a.m. that morning. And so it always troubles me to hear people say, and say baselessly: Well, you know, some people don't want to work. So 5 a.m. in the morning, standing in line. And at best, of the 5,000 or 6,000 people who were there, we only had about 2,000 jobs. But people stood patiently in line.

One of the things that happened that I think some of you may already know about who are in the CBC, an Anglo gentleman, and there were people from every race in every city, but this particular gentleman caught my attention because he said: Look, I listen to black radio. He said, I just like R&B and I heard about the jobs fair and I thought I'd come over since I'm unemployed. And he said, Is it all right? And of course our position is, has been, and shall always be, one of including everybody, particularly in a time of crisis. But even if we're not, that is what we would want. And so he remained in line. I'm not sure what happened, whether he was one of the successful applicants or not.

The point I want to make is that the pain that is being experienced in this Nation is not just being experienced by African Americans. It is true that our numbers are higher, but our numbers are higher for a variety of reasons. Number one, African Americans historically have tried or sought employment in government. One of the reasons Washington, D.C. is predominantly black is because African Americans from the South came to Washington by the tens of thousands because it was believed that if you could get to the capital of the United States, you would experience far less bigotry and discrimination. And so by the thousands they came to Washington.

The same thing holds true with government. African Americans have sought employment with State, local, and the Federal Government. So every time people read in the paper or cheer that some State laid off 200 or 300

people, they need to understand that those are 200 or 300 real human beings, and chances are also great that they are disproportionately minority. So that is one of the reasons why our numbers are swelling like they are.

But also I think we have got to realize that there are some other factors through no fault of people who are unemployed. I served as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, from 1991 until 1999, two terms, 8 years. One of the things we always had to fight was expanding. Urban sprawl is what it is called sociologically. Kansas City is a city that stretches 322 square miles. To show you how large that is, you can place the entire city of San Francisco inside the city limits of Kansas City 30 times, or the city of Washington, I think it is like 42 times. It is a huge city.

Now while many politicians brag about that, the truth of the matter is we stretched out our resources. One of the things I learned during the jobs fairs--we started out in Cleveland, went to Detroit; left Detroit and went to Atlanta; left Atlanta and went to Miami; left Miami and went to Los Angeles--and there is one thing that was present at all of those that this Congress needs to deal with and it is this: the jobs that were brought to our fairs were not new jobs. The truth of the matter is they were jobs that already existed except they were in the suburbs.

And so as the cities have expanded, the jobs have moved to the suburbs. And so we cannot speak of creating jobs without dealing with the issue of transportation. There's an inextricable connection between jobs and transportation: how do you get people in the highest unemployment areas to the areas where the jobs are.

For those who live on the eastern seaboard, you have a little better situation because you have, as we do in Washington, the Metro. But when you start moving toward the western part of the United States, or the Caribbean, there is no mass transportation that is as effective as it is on the east coast. Therefore, if jobs are in suburban Kansas City and people who live in the urban area are unemployed and do not have a car and do not have any way of getting to the jobs, there is no way they can get there. Remember, Kansas City is a city of 322 square miles, which means that people could need to go essentially 30, 40, 50 miles to get a job.

Now, let me also say that nothing has been discussed thus far dealing with transportation. The jobs bill is seeking to have what I think most of us would support, which would be some kind of transportation bank where it would end up that the government would put money in and hopefully the private sector would come in and we would be able to get these infrastructure jobs going. But the amount of money that is being discussed is woefully inadequate, and there's probably little chance that we're going to be able to create any new mass transit programs in the country. In fact, UMTA, the Urban Mass Transit Administration, is broke virtually broke. So there's very little in the way of help coming forth.

Now, there's some politics involved, and we're all in the political environment. And the people at home may not even understand what's going on.

Tragically, I have watched our country move to a state where people are constantly angry. They're being told to hate their government, and then both sides of the aisle use inappropriate language to discuss things with the other side of the aisle. It's continuing to ratchet up, and it's getting worse and worse. And the people around the country are not only participating in it, they are encouraging it.

This is the United States of America. My hope and my dream is that this Nation will be around for my children and my grandchildren. But I'm telling you that what our children are seeing is not a pleasant sight because they are looking at a Nation that is becoming more and more divided. You can't look at television or radio without this constant attack, attack, attack, and it's just sickening to see this.

As we're moving into an election cycle, we're going to see ``thermal nuclear'' campaigns. And the American public needs to come to grips with the fact that if people will run a nasty campaign where all they do is attack, chances are when they come to Congress they're going to do the same thing. And the more we bring people in here who come for the sole purpose of fighting against the other side, the less business we're going to take care of for the people of this country.

I said last week there are some people who'd like to defeat the President of the United States. Fine. Campaign against him. Get your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, and everybody. Vote against him. If you can vote twice, vote twice. Do everything you can to defeat the President. But right now, vote for the American public. Fight him later. Vote now for the American public.

And the American public is in trouble. We've got to create opportunities for jobs to grow and develop or we're going to find ourselves faced with a new normal, a new normal where unemployment is considered normal at 8 percent rather than 3.5 percent, which is what our predecessors decided that we're going to keep unemployment at, 3.5 percent. So we can't allow this to happen. I think we've got to fight against it. But, more than that, what we've got to do is quit fighting each other. Nothing is going to happen worth anything if we're fighting each other.


Mr. CLEAVER. What is generally said is that you get, four to one, jobs to money spent if we do infrastructure projects, and those jobs are long lasting.

Now, most of the infrastructure in this country is in decrepit condition. Most of the storm water sewers, wastewater sewers in cities around the country are over a century old. Roads are collapsing. Our bridges are collapsing. We saw in Minnesota 2 years ago what happens when we neglect our own infrastructure.

And the worst thing about it, Congressman Butterfield, is that we're building roads and bridges right now in Iraq, new roads and bridges and schools in Iraq right now. I'm just a dumb Methodist preacher, but something doesn't add up. We're doing all of this in Iraq and our roads are crumbling?


Mr. CLEAVER. And we can with the infrastructure bank. But we've got to put enough money in the bank to attract the private sector dollars. And that's a part of the President's plan, and hopefully people will buy into it. But I don't think we have a lot of time to waste. Americans are sitting around now hoping, many of them even praying, that we will do something to help them out of the economic doldrums in which they find themselves.

So, I appreciate the opportunity to come and share tonight in this discussion because I think people around the country who are watching this need to know at least there are some people in Washington who are looking out for their best interests. And I think, based on what

we're doing, we are part of it. I'm not going to suggest that other folks are not interested in helping folks. They are. I'm saying that sometimes, maybe even unintentionally, we allow political ideology to trump anything and everything else, and at some point we ought to be more Americans than we are Democrats or Republicans.

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