Congress, spooked by summer town halls, tries jobs fairs instead
The health-care reform protests of 2009 have made members of Congress worried about holding traditional summer town halls. As an alternative, some are holding jobs fairs.
With unemployment locked in double digits in many congressional districts, the defining political event of the summer for many members of Congress is becoming the jobs fair, sponsored by lawmakers to connect constituents with actual hiring prospects.Skip to next paragraph
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The political advantages are two-fold: The events cast members as doing something about the nation’s jobs crisis while at the same time shielding them from public confrontations with angry voters. It means town-hall meetings – once a staple of the congressional summer season – are now in decline thanks to the testy summer of 2009, when health-care protests helped launch the tea party movement and provided endless grist for opposition campaign ads.
The new formula is one that leaders on both sides of the aisle are encouraging other colleagues to pursue. But some public-interest groups charge that jobs fairs are no substitute for the face-to-face contact essential in a democracy.
“Our concern is that elected officials are only hearing from their respective partisan bases and will not expose themselves to criticism. Politics is about competing ideas, and everyone should have a seat at the table,” said William Galston, a cofounder of No Labels, an independent group promoting bipartisanship in Washington, in a statement.
About half of Republicans and two-thirds of Democrats said that they had no town-hall meetings scheduled over the August recess, according to a survey released Aug. 21 by No Labels.
In Miami Tuesday, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrapped up the fourth of five jobs fairs planned this summer in high-unemployment neighborhoods. Some 120 employers participated, including local government, offering about 3,000 job prospects. Previous jobs fairs were held this month in Atlanta, Detroit, and Cleveland. The CBC hosts a jobs fair in Los Angeles on Aug. 31.
“Unemployment in south Florida is no longer a crisis, but an epidemic,” said freshman Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) of Florida in a statement before Miami’s jobs fair on Tuesday. “It’s time to take matters into our own hands and provide real opportunities for people to get back to work.”
Unemployment in Miami-Dade County is 12.5 percent, but black unemployment is 29 percent in Miami's Liberty City and 26 percent in another Miami neighborhood, Little Haiti – and even higher among black men, says an aide to Congresswoman Wilson.