WASHINGTON — Washington. -- While presidential candidates of both major parties were wooing white middle-class voters with promises of tax cuts and other goodies aimed at taking the nation out of its economic slump, two of the nation's major advocates for blacks and the poor warned last week that the promises are misdirected and that besides, they won't do the trick.
On Tuesday, National Urban League president John E. Jacob, releasing the League's 17th annual report on "The State of Black America," said at a news conference that as a result of the recession, "you have former executives on the unemployment lines, former white-collar workers on the soup lines, and former factory workers on the welfare lines."
Black or white, poor or middle class, he said, "we're all in the same boat."
Mr. Jacob went on to reveal what he called the nation's "dirty little secret." For more than a decade, he said, Americans have "bought the myths of the right wing -- that people are poor or jobless because of personal failings, that poverty and joblessness are 'black' problems." The fact is, he said, "the victims of poverty, unemployment and hardship" are predominantly white, and whites comprise most of the nation's welfare and food-stamp recipients.
As Mr. Jacob outlined the situation, the League's report could have been titled, "The Black State of America." For certain, he said, "This recession won't be fixed by smoke and mirrors or by political grandstanding."
On Thursday, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, president of the National Rainbow Coalition -- and a two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who has announced that he won't try again this year -- issued similar warnings.
"The nation is in pain," he said. "We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression. . . . There are more poor people, more unemployed, more failed financial institutions than at any time since the 1930s."
Mr. Jackson was speaking at a luncheon opening the National Policy Institute, a three-day conference of more than 300 black elected officials from throughout the nation. The conference was sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, generally regarded as the nation's leading black think tank.
Back to Mr. Jacob: "I'm very disturbed that national leadership -- in both parties -- thinks this recession can be waited out or fixed with a little tinkering."
The Urban League president criticized "proposals for tax cuts that would drain away resources that should be used to create jobs" and -- taking direct aim at President Bush -- "trips to beg the Japanese to start affirmative action programs for U.S. exports."
Back to Mr. Jackson: "Bush got on a plane with 23 all-white, all-male multi-millionaires over 60 to go to Japan, asking for 'jobs, jobs, jobs.' . . . They demanded international affirmative action. And yet on that trip there was not one labor leader, one small-business person, one woman, one African American, one Hispanic."
Both Mr. Jacob and Mr. Jackson offered proposals for resolving both the immediate problem of the recession and the long-term problem of turning the nation's economy around.
Mr. Jacob once again proposed a "Marshall Plan for America" -- a massive 10-year, $50 billion-a-year effort. The League's first proposal of a "domestic Marshall Plan" dates back to 1963 -- and the price tag hasn't changed.
The aims of the latest proposal would be first to "jump-start" the economy out of the recession, then to revamp the nation's economic "infrastructure" by restoring its ability to create jobs, to improve its education system and to train workers.
For those who were likely to blanch at the $500 billion price tag, it was Mr. Jackson who provided an answer: "Why is Japan strong? Japan invests in Japan. . . . The Japanese have a $3 trillion, ten-year plan to rebuild their infrastructure."
Mr. Jackson suggested that the nation's military budget could be "cut in half without cutting defense," and that the money saved could be used to "reinvest in America" through a program of reindustrialization.
At the same time, Mr. Jackson called for a program of "corporate workfare."
"When corporations receive a tax break, they have a responsibility to reinvest in the community that gave them the break," he said. "Yet today, there is no incentive for them to work for what they get. That's corporate welfare.
"We need corporate workfare, [to] make corporations invest where they live," he said, adding, "If they are not prepared to reinvest in America, then we will take them off the tax-break roles."