It’s been two years since the Lehman Brothers collapse set off a global financial meltdown. The government bailed out big Wall Street banks and they’re now making bumper earnings. Major corporations are sitting on $8 trillion in cash reserves, the biggest pile since 1963.

For working families, the crisis didn’t start in 2008. They’ve been getting what New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse calls “The Big Squeeze” for decades, as the income gap between the rich and the rest of us tripled. These families are continuing to bear the brunt of the economic crisis.

More than 15 million Americans are out of work, and there are nearly five job-seekers for every job opening. Long-term unemployment is at record levels. This “jobs deficit” is longer and deeper than any other post-war recession. If job growth for the next decade matches 2000-2010, the official unemployment rate will hit 13 percent by 2020. And that doesn’t even factor in that workers are earning less, losing benefits, and working longer and harder.

Conservative activists and some members of Congress have been grandstanding about our massive budget deficit to block a recovery for the rest of us. Yet these same people want to maintain tax breaks for the rich and stop taxes on the Wall Street banks that created this mess in the first place–two steps that could help shrink the deficit. It’s time for ordinary Americans to make our voices heard. It’s time to declare a state of emergency on jobs.

Across the country, workers are already taking a stand. At a Mott’s apple juice plant in New York, workers have gone on strike over wage cuts. Hugo Boss and Republic Windows workers in New York and Illinois have successfully prevented plant shutdowns.

Unemployed workers across the country are also organizing and demanding jobs with justice. Jobless doesn’t mean voiceless or powerless.

Chicago’s Unemployed Council has been collecting surveys at unemployment offices to get information on jobless needs and met with members of Congress to push for extended jobless benefits. In Eastern Maine, the laid-off committee gives tips on surviving unemployment and connects with local farmers to arrange food baskets. In Long Island, New York and Portland, Oregon, monthly potlucks help the jobless break out of their isolation and take an active role as citizens holding representatives accountable.

On September 15, coalitions of community, faith, labor, and student organizations are taking action in 30 cities, calling for “Full and Fair Employment,” and demanding that officials explain what they will do to fill the jobs gap and put America back to work.

Polls clearly show that most Americans consider the jobs emergency a higher priority than the budget deficit–and after all, the best way to address budget deficits is to put people back to work so they can pay their share of taxes. Making Wall Street pay its fair share works well too.

There are several actions Congress could take as emergency first steps towards full and fair employment. For example, they could pass the Local Jobs for America Act, which would save or create 1 million good public sector jobs, providing needed services in communities that need it most.

A small tax on financial transactions would reduce the most harmful speculation games of Wall Street, and could potentially generate $200-500 billion per year for jobs programs.

Without jobs, there is no recovery. Without good jobs, there is no justice.

Sarita Gupta is executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of more than 40 local coalitions of labor, community, student, and faith organizations, working together to build a broader global movement for economic and social justice.

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