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November 9, 2007 - Chicago Defender (IL)

Rep. Danny Davis Leading The Charge To Help Ex-Offenders

Statistics And Facts Don't Seem To Change Much When It Comes To Black Employment And Earnings

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A look at the Census Bureau numbers show that Black unemployment last year was 12.6 per cent, more than double that of white unemployment which was reported at 5.3 per cent. To help make sense of these figures, look at the fact that of 27.4 million Black folk who could be employed in the work force more than 3 million of them were without work.

U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis is keenly aware of these numbers and fortunately is trying to do something about it. Davis, whose Second Chance legislation would help ease the transition for incarcerated individuals back into the community, was only recently voted out of committee. The pending legislation is waiting for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, majority, leader to set a date for a vote.

This is an essential piece of legislation for our community given that Black folk are incarcerated at a rate of six-one compared to white inmates. That means it is more critical for us to attain at least a high school education, some marketable skills, solid health, reading skills and the other essentials to being a productive citizen. Davis' Second Chance Act would do all those things.

Besides the employment disparity, there is the difference in wages earned between Black men and their white counterparts. The median earnings for a Black man putting in a full work week is $618 per week. The white male wage earner receives $784 for the same work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As talk of the legislation made its way around Washington, even President George Bush is on record saying he will sign the Second Chance legislation. Given that the Congressional recess is looming, Reid needs to be pressed to get this bill up for vote post haste.

Maybe Reid will be inclined to move faster if Chicagoans call his Washington D.C. office at -1-202-224-3542. The senator needs to know how important this legislation is. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Mayor Richard M. Daley both have programs that assist former felons. Now it is necessary to get the federal piece in place.

Crime is a fact of life and its pervasiveness touches most, if not all of us. That's why it's imperative that it be dealt with it in innovative ways. We have learned that tougher sentencing, harsh crackdowns and other uber punitive measure don't cur back substantially on repeat offenders.

Davis' approach, to get prisoners prepared for their return to society makes tremendous sense.

Passage of the Second Chance legislation will grease the skids for more ex-offender legislation Davis intends to introduce next year. That bill will allow former felons to work at governmental agencies. Of course they will be in non-critical areas such as lawn maintenance, or doing road work etc. Davis has wondered aloud why anyone would need clearance to cut the grass at the CIA. There is no good answer.

Helping ex-offenders transition smoothly back into the community with education and skills can shore up many deficiencies. One of the largest contributions will be taking jobs that former Mexican President Vicente Fox said "Americans won't do."

Our neighborhoods are fraught with folk who don't look like us or speak the language doing jobs that give them a few bucks that don't turn over in our community. If ex-offenders are being hired, at least we know the money will stay in the community.

It's time we took steps that will reverse the unemployment and wage negatives about Black folk. Davis' legislation and pending legislation deserves the support of every Black Chicagoan in and outside of his West Side Seventh Congressional District.

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