Education, jobs key issues

Hunt: Education, jobs key issues in 2nd District

Dr. Martin Luther King once remarked, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”

As we come up on the April 9 election to select a new representative for the 2nd Congressional District, we now have the opportunity to be all that we would like to be. But to do so, we have some important choices to make.

Chief among them is electing a candidate who embodies the character, principles and diversity of not just the south suburbs but the South Side of Chicago and Kankakee as well.

It’s a very tough choice. But in deciding who to vote for, we need to first consider the candidates’ stands on the issues of education and a south suburban airport.

A biblical proverbs encourages the community to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Key to the current and future success of the Southland is ensuring that our youth receive a quality education.

But this has been threatened by youth violence, high dropout rates and low educational achievement. I see the need for a real and sustainable economy every Sunday within my congregation.

Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, conducted a study that showed:

High school dropouts cost society on average of about $70,000 during their working years.

About one-third of high school dropouts receive food stamps, compared with 17.3 percent of high school graduates and 8.6 percent of those who have an associate degree.

The incarceration rate among male high school dropouts ages 18 to 34 was 14.7 percent in 2010, while only 3 percent of male high school graduates spent time behind bars.

Nineteen percent of males, 30 percent of Hispanic males and 27 percent of African-American males did not have a high school diploma in 2010.

Further, a 2009 study conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago reported that “high school graduation is a strong indicator of social and economic well-being.”

The study also revealed that average scores on an important third-grade reading exam are also down — more than one-fourth of all students failed the reading portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in 2009.

The solution is to promote and provide early childhood education so students will possess the tools they need to be successful throughout their school years and into adulthood.

Additionally, programs that include faith- and community-based partnerships would provide restorative justice, parent-leadership development and collaborative strategies to provide students and parents with mentoring, counseling and other social services.

A south suburban airport would provide more economic and transportation equity by providing more opportunities for employment in the Southland. It would be a robust economic engine that could generate billions of dollars of revenue to surrounding communities.

The airport near Peotone will attract a variety of aviation and service-related commerce to the area, including professional firms, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that improve the economy and lower the tax base.

Most importantly, when the first stage of the airport is approved to go forward, it will mean thousands of aviation-related jobs and 1,000 construction jobs immediately. Those are well-paying jobs that the Southland community needs and deserves.

And as the airport expands over the years, it will generate more jobs — perhaps for you, your children and your grandchildren.

The choice as to who our new 2nd District representative will be should be predicated on where he or she stands on such critical issues.

Like Dr. King, I have a dream that this beloved community of the Southland continues to make education a priority for our young people and reassumes its place as a transportation and economic center in the nation.

I leave you with the thought that “the time is always right to do what is right.”

The Rev. James E. Hunt is president of the South Suburban Action Conference in Lansing, which works to unify the area’s white, Latino and African-American communities. He is also chairman of economic development for Gamaliel Metro Chicago, a partnership between SSAC and the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.

This article originally appeared in the Southtown Star on March 26, 2013 and is available here: