President Barack Obama opened his speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala Wednesday night with a joke reminding everyone that Rey Decerega, the institute’s program director, had accidentally broken his lip during a basketball game last November. “Not many people can give the President of the United States stitches on his lip and get away with it,” Obama said.
Obama could have been talking about how Latinos successfully pressured him into suspending deportations for some 300,000 people this summer— Obama was at the gala to talk jobs to elected officials who represent the group hardest-hit by the recession. Census figures released this week say that 27 percent of Latinos were living in poverty in 2010; other figures indicate that the housing crisis stole 66 percent of Latino household wealth and that the unemployment rate among Latinos is at 11.3 percent, compared with the 9.1 national average.
In his gala speech, Obama reiterated his speech before Congress a week ago, when he presented this American Jobs Act, a series of employer and employee tax cuts and investment in infrastructure-building, designed to help jumpstart hiring. “The idea behind this bill is simple: to put more people back to work and put more money into the pockets of those who are working,” Obama said. “It will create more jobs for construction workers and teachers and veterans and the long-term unemployed. It will give tax breaks to companies who hire new workers and to small business owners and to the middle class. And it will help restore confidence in our economy so businesses will invest and hire.”
The bill, which he says would give the typical working family a $1,500 tax cut next year, is crucial to Latinos, Obama said. “I don’t have to tell you these are tough times. You know how hard this recession has hit families—especially Latino families.
“I’m asking everybody in the Latino community—not just here, but all across the country—lift up your voice,” said Obama, whose approval rating among Latinos has slipped from a high of 82 percent in January 2009 to 48 percent this month. “Make yourself heard. If you think it’s time to pass a jobs bill that will put millions of Americans back to work, call on Congress to do the right thing,” he said.
In her blog, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recently detailed the ways in which the administration says the bill would benefit Latinos:
•Employer tax cuts, incentives to hire and make new investments, would benefit 250,000 Latino-owned small businesses.
•An extension of unemployment benefits would affect 1.1 million Latinos—most of whom have been unemployed for six months or more—and their families.
• An extension of the payroll tax cut would increase the paycheck of 25 million Latino workers.
She also wrote that Obama recently told her that “as tough as things have been on Latino workers, I know our economic future depends upon them.”