I was thinking about someone that I met last week — Mr. Arthur Winston. He retired on his 100th birthday after 72 years working at a Los Angeles city bus yard.
Seventy-two years of sweeping and mopping the floors and cleaning windows and taking out the trash. Seventy-two years of a paycheck and the grace that comes along with it. They call Winston "the perfect worker." He was on time. He had a great safety record. He never called in sick, and the only day of work he missed was the day he buried his wife.
In Winston resides the potential of every American. He isn't an example of the past, but of our future. Why? Because there are millions and millions of Americans — Black, Brown, White, men and women — who are ready and willing to work just as hard if we simply invest in them.
It is time to stop the outsourcing of American jobs. It is time to start investing in our greatest resource here — the American worker and American ingenuity. We need to create jobs, jobs and more jobs if we want to restore real economic growth and promise to every American.
Just like we can't outsource our national security to Dubai, we cannot outsource our economic security to India, China or Brazil. In the next decade, there will be nearly 10 million new jobs that will have to be filled as the Baby Boomers begin to retire in 2010. I believe those jobs should be filled here, in cities from coast to coast.
Indeed, 2006 and 2008 are pivotal election years that may change America's course domestically. Rather than wait for potential presidential and congressional candidates to scrabble for solutions, the National Urban League is offering recommendations to every candidate who seeks to influence a growing, diverse electorate.
First, let's identify the solutions that work and expand upon them. A recent study spoke of the plight of young Black men economically, despite a growing economy that helped low-skilled women through public policy initiatives. Published in The New York Times on March 20, the report stated that "In 2000, 65 percent of Black male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless— that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared to 34 percent of White and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts."
America needs expanded job training and career counseling efforts with a focus on young urban males, especially targeting those least likely to find jobs — men between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of work, out of school and/or ex-offenders.
Now is the time when America needs the largest, most far-reaching effort to train and retrain American workers for the jobs of the 21st century. Here are a few things that could be done and what every public official seeking elected office in the near future should respond to:
First, America must restore vocational education in high schools that fit a 21st century model. There will be a 10 million-person job gap beginning in 2010 that requires both blue-collar and white-collar skills.
Second, America should invest in programs that develop more skilled workers for the construction industry. Just rebuilding the Gulf Coast alone will require tens of thousands more workers. If America could rebuild Europe after World War II, why can't we create jobs to rebuild part of our own country?
Third, we must invest in prisons to provide education training for inmates instead of expensive and senseless warehousing. We need a comprehensive national effort for prisoner re-entry strategy that combines adequate academic skills building, drug treatment, job training and placement. And, we need effective re-entry policies that allow ex-offenders to receive vocational licenses and other work requirements that are necessary to create productive, taxpaying, contributing citizens with stable families.
The bottom line is that we want Americans in bank lines, not unemployment lines. We want workfare, not welfare. America needs to provide its workers with a path so they can realize their promise and stand with the same pride as Winston did after 72 years on the job.
Today, more than ever, every American must get that opportunity.
Marc H. Morial is president of the National Urban League.