Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday called on Congress to immediately fund a million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans, adding to a pile of high-cost plans that might only become reality if he prevails in his longshot bid for the White House.
Sanders’s bill, which he introduced in a D.C. neighborhood with relatively high unemployment and crime rates, would send $5.5 billion to local and state governments to fund job-training programs. Much of the money would go to helping unemployed African Americans. Sanders suggested the investment could pay for itself if it keeps more young black men out of jail.
“If current trends continue, 1 in 3 black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. This is an unspeakable tragedy,” Sanders said. “But this crisis is not just a destruction of human life. It is also very, very costly to the taxpayers.” Sanders pegged the country’s annual prison tab at $70 billion.
“It makes a lot more sense to me to be investing in jobs, in job training . . . than to be building more and more jails and to be locking more and more people up,” Sanders said.
The bill, introduced with longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D), comes as declared Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Hillary Rodham Clinton have tried to find the right tone to respond to riots from Ferguson to Baltimore over police tactics that stirred national debate over racial and economic inequality.
For Sanders (I-Vt.), the bill’s introduction also highlighted the long and detailed — if highly controversial — policy plans he has put on the record over three decades on Capitol Hill. The Vermont independent has recently renewed legislative efforts for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and $750 billion in new taxes on overseas profits to make all state college and universities free.
Announcing the policy in D.C. also marked a rare campaign-style appearance for a candidate in the nation’s capital. While election-year fundraisers in the city abound and Clinton is expected to appear before a congressional committee investigating her e-mail retention as secretary of state, candidates usually seek backdrops as far from D.C. as possible.
On Thursday, Sanders traveled just three miles down Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol. Across the Anacostia River in a building atop a rundown strip mall, Sanders noted the unemployment rate, which hovers around 15 percent there and above 20 percent in the city for young black men.
The event raised the possibility that Sanders may embrace D.C. in his campaign, where he has readymade access to the city’s large press corps, and his role as a current elected lawmaker is unique among Democratic contenders.
It was the third event Sanders has held in D.C. since the spring, including his announcement outside the Capitol, and a town hall meeting before he became a candidate. At that event, he warned of impending disaster in the next federal budget decided by congressional Republicans.
As he rushed back to the Capitol for a vote Thursday in a compact car with Vermont tags, Sanders declined to comment on whether President Obama had done enough on youth unemployment, or on the positions of his competitors. Clinton has spoken without specifics about addressing youth unemployment, and O’Malley has talked about using the fourth year of high school for skills training.
“This issue is a crisis facing American society. It is an international disgrace,” Sanders said. “It has to be dealt with, and I hope every candidate feels that we have to address this issue.”