Earlier this month, the eyes of our nation turned briefly to those whom the Bible calls “the least of these.” The U.S. Bureau of the Census revealed that nearly one of every six Americans is now living in poverty.
Based on data from 2010, the Bureau found that more than 46,000,000 Americans are now living below the poverty line. That is the deepest level since 1993 – and even more alarming in light of our struggling economy.
Children - especially poor children of color - are faring the worst. Overall, more than one out of every five American children is living in a household that cannot provide the basic necessities of life.
One-third of Hispanic children are caught in this tragedy – and, among Black children, the devastation affects nearly 40 percent.
Although many in Maryland, our nation’s wealthiest state, are faring better than the national average, that is no solace to the 80,000 Marylanders who cannot make ends meet.
In Baltimore, the crisis is getting worse. Poverty now afflicts the lives of one of every five of our neighbors.
“People who were managing have now dropped into poverty,” observes Professor Susan Roll of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “The poor are everywhere. They’re not just people living in shelters. They’re the person who poured your coffee. They’re cleaning your office when you are not there.”
How could any person of conscience - especially anyone elected to serve the people of this country - turn a blind eye to so much suffering? Tragically, I must inform you, that is precisely what some Republican congressional leaders are doing.
Consider the paramount issue of jobs.
We know that the best social welfare program is a good job. In the worst economic climate in decades, jobs have been the number one priority for President Obama and his congressional allies.
In February 2009, we enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus”).
Today, although our economy remains sluggish, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the Stimulus has had a major, positive economic impact.
From April through June of this year, the CBC estimates, the Stimulus: (1) raised our nation’s GDP by as much as 2.5 percent; (2) lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.6 percent; and (3) created or saved as many as 4 million jobs nationally.
So, whatever the nay-sayers among my Republican congressional colleagues may try to argue, these are real, tangible contributions to a nation that is struggling economically.
Nevertheless, both the President and I realize that we must do more.
The economic ditch created by eight years of Bush administration failures is far too deep to fill in only one day - or with only one shovel. That is why President Obama has proposed that we in the Congress take effective action immediately to create more jobs.
Along with the 46,000,000 Americans living in poverty, I would second this urgent call.
This month, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Chairman John Larson introduced President Obama’s American Jobs Act (S. 1549 and H.R. 12, respectively).
“The President has drafted a plan that is focused on what the 14 million Americans who are out of work know they need - the simple dignity of a job,” Chairman Larson observed. “He deserves a vote on his plan in as timely a fashion as possible because those 14 million Americans can’t wait the 14 months until the next election for this to be resolved.”
Personally, and for the people I represent, I whole-heartedly agree.
Here is what the President’s job creation legislation would do for the working families of our state.
The American Jobs Act would provide Maryland with nearly $1.6 billion in federal funding to: (1) support an additional 8,100 jobs in the construction trades; (2) preserve or add as many as 6,000 teachers, police officers and firefighters; and (3) add an additional 4,100 jobs upgrading our crumbling school buildings.
The extended unemployment benefits in the President’s Plan would prevent 17,600 of our neighbors who are looking for work from losing their unemployment benefits in the first six weeks of the program.
The 18,200 jobs that our President seeks to create here in Maryland will not end poverty in our state - but it is a beginning.
Now is the time for my Republican colleagues to put politics and ideology aside. As a united Congress, we must respond effectively - and immediately - to the economic crisis that Americans face.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.