NELP Applauds President Obama’s Focus on Raising Wages and Helping Long-Term Unemployed Get Back on Their Feet

Statement of Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project

The president’s State of the Union address comes at a moment when America’s workers are facing historic challenges. We applaud President Obama for committing to confront those challenges head-on, as he did earlier today by announcing an executive order that will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.

That’s a powerful first step—one that we hope will build momentum for a long-overdue increase in the federal minimum wage, which remains stuck $7.25 an hour. President Obama clearly shares the frustration of working families who’ve been waiting for Congress to pass an urgently-needed increase. It’s time for Congress to heed the will of the voters, of whom nearly three in four support legislation proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. President Obama took an important first step today; it’s time for Congress to follow suit.

We’re thankful that President Obama continues to fight for America’s long-term unemployed workers and their families. Despite the president’s best efforts, Congress turned its back on the long-term unemployed, allowing extended jobless aid to expire in December. One month into the lapse, Congress’s unconscionable failure to act has left 1.6 million unemployed workers and their families struggling to figure out how they’ll stay in their homes or be able to afford gas, heat, and other basics of survival while they continue to seek work. An additional 72,000 Americans are joining their ranks each week. We join with the president in urging a swift restoration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for these families.

Finding work remains challenging for the long-term unemployed. Nearly four million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months, an unprecedented level three times greater than when the recession began. These record-high levels have persisted for more than four years. It doesn’t help that many employers shut their doors to job applicants who have any extended period of joblessness. NELP documented hundreds of instances of employers brazenly posting ads precluding consideration of unemployed applicants. So we welcome President Obama’s announcement tonight that some of the nation’s largest employers have signed a White House pledge agreeing not to use discriminatory hiring practices that shut out long-term unemployed job applicants. Now we’d like to see those and other employers affirmatively open their doors to the long-term unemployed, giving them the opportunity to rejoin the ranks of those who spend their time working, rather than desperately looking for work.

We applaud the president’s renewed commitment to achieving comprehensive and humane immigration reform. Our economy will be stronger, our democracy better, and our workplaces fairer if millions of undocumented men, women, and children can fearlessly step out from the shadows and openly set out on the pathway to citizenship. And unless the rights and protections provided to any worker are extended to every worker in America, no worker is protected. We must end the abuse and exploitation that immigrant workers are so often subjected to, and ensure their full enjoyment of basic labor and employment rights.

Finally, we commend the president’s abiding commitment to creating good jobs, and more of them. We join the president in calling on Congress to invest in America, putting Americans to work in rebuilding our decaying infrastructure and increasing pre-school opportunities for our children.

We can have a strong and vibrant economy that extends promise and opportunity to all of America’s working families. Many of the policies and reforms the president announced tonight move us in that direction. NELP stands ready to help turn such policy priorities into a reality.

Emma Stieglitz
(646) 200-5307

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