In conjunction with the president’s job summit, held Dec. 3, South Austin Coalition’s Elce Redmond and Bob Vondrasek, along with a cross-section of organizations and community activists, met to discuss how joblessness can be addressed and to brainstorm some solutions.

The summit was held at Friendship Baptist Church, 5200 W. Jackson Blvd., where Rev. Reginald Bachus is pastor. Attending were Moises Zavala, organizing coordinator of Local 881 UFCW; Rev. Maurizio Binaghi; Westside Health Authority’s Virgil Crawford; Milton Jones of the Local Economic & Employment Development Council; state Rep. La Shawn Ford; Susan Aubrey, activist for the disabled; Bill Barclay, Chicago Political Economy; Sam Long, Lemont Bonner, Lowry Taylor, Paul Beals, and Anthony Williams.

It is no secret that in the African-American as well as the Latino communities, unemployment is at an all-time high. While the overall employment rate for Americans fell slightly in November, the jobless gap between African-Americans and all other races actually rose, continuing a disturbing trend that has many lawmakers up in arms. According to CNN, the latest posted unemployment rate for blacks is 15.6 percent, Hispanics 12.7 percent, whites 9.3 percent and Asians 7.3 percent.

Leading off the discussion, Redmond stated, “This crisis has become epidemic and we have this epidemic of joblessness where there are communities of color, disabilities or Hispanics. As we speak right now, the president is holding his summit. What we are pushing for is a national jobs program.”

Fr. Binaghi addressed the issues of ex-offenders and how his organization hires individuals to clean up the areas and various infrastructure sites.

Jones spoke about his organization, Local Economic & Employment Development Council, which prepares participants for entry-level “green-collar” jobs in the field of weatherization or retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford talked about how his office sent out job leads through his e-mail list. “During these difficult times, you may not have the job you want, but you have to take something,” Ford said.

Zavala, a union organizer, pointed out that the jobs being created are part-time jobs. “I have talked to workers in these new retail jobs, the big-box stores like Target and Walmart, and they are getting 10 hours per week. Some of these companies can brag about creating 300 jobs, but if you only have people working part time, 10 hours per week with zero benefits … we know that these jobs rely on the turnover. They say, “We offer health care, we offer 401ks,” and the problem is employees can’t afford it.

Taylor spoke about technology and the digital divide, pointing out how they are trying to motivate young people in the minority communities to learn technology. “If you have a technology background, you are more capable of locating jobs. You’re refining your resume, and you’re then capable of communicating across the world, said Taylor.

The brainstorming group decided to meet again after the holidays, on Jan. 14, in an effort to take further action on the joblessness issue. Vondrasek pointed out in his written statement that “non-profit organizations account for 9.4 million employees and 4.7 million volunteers nationwide. That is almost 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. And because jobs at non-profits pay so little, with a few notable exceptions, they would cost the government less than many other stimulus measures. America needs a public jobs program – like the WPA under FDR in the 1930s and the CEDA program under Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.”