It has been good to see the recent attention paid to the racial disparities in employment that continue to plague the Twin Cities.
The problem is real, especially in Minneapolis. In 2009, according data from the U.S. census bureau, 8.2% percent of white Minnesotans lived in poverty. For nonwhites, the percentage was 26.2%. In the 7-county metro area, these rates were 5.6% vs. 23.1%. But in Minneapolis, 12.4 % of whites lived in poverty compared to a staggering 37.5% of nonwhites. In that same year the unemployment rate was about 7% for whites and over 16% for nonwhites in Minneapolis. These disparities are probably worse now.
There are racial disparities in most measurable outcomes of success, including education, health, and wealth. But disparities in employment must be a key focus, and the City of Minneapolis is already trying to do something about it.
In 2008, we established an Equity in Employment Task Force of government officials, social service providers and community stakeholders, to examine ways to reduce the economic disparities between minority and majority communities. In 2009, the Council set a goal that will help us measure or efforts: to reduce the percentage of Minneapolis minority residents living in poverty from the 2008 Census Bureau reported average of 36% to that of the 2008 metropolitan minority overage of 21% by 2014.
In 2010, the City continued to make progress:
- We helped provide jobs for roughly 3000 people of color, through workforce goals set with developers, as well as job training and placement programs.
- Of the 2,300 youth put to work through our STEP UP summer jobs program, 87% were youth of color.
- Of the 190 participants enrolled in training programs funded through our federal Recovery Act program for low income adults, 60% were African American.
But the problem persists. In November 2010, a Disparity Study that examined the City’s contracting and procurement confirmed that we continue to have a significant problem with racial and gender discrimination on all levels of the hiring, contracting and procurement ladder in the region. While minority- and woman-owned businesses represented 20% of the companies we could potentially contract with or buy from, for example, they were utilized less than 6% of the time.
The City’s own workforce has a way to go as well if we want it to reflect the diversity of the city. Currently, Minneapolis’s racial makeup is roughly 61% white and 39% nonwhite. As of 2007, the City’s workforce was roughly 77% white, 23% nonwhite, and only 32% female.
Clearly our City government needs to do more, but government cannot solve this problem alone. To make progress, we will need a focused effort that includes consumers, businesses, government officials, educators, activists, job seekers, and concerned people from all walks of life.
We should all start now by asking what part we play in perpetuating racial and ethnic disparities and what we can do to end them.
As consumers and employers, we can look at how we make our spending decisions, where our resources go and who we choose to hire, buy from and contract with.
As community members and educators, we must ask what we are doing to help our young, our unemployed and the job seekers we know to get the education, training and support they need to find work and build successful careers.
As job seekers, we can ask what we can do to be better prepared for meaningful work and to break through the barriers of hopelessness and discrimination.
This spring and summer, a unique partnership between the City’s Equity in Employment Task Force and the Metro Talking Circle will begin drafting a 10 Point Plan to reduce racial disparities in employment and poverty in Minneapolis. We are already meeting with stakeholders to gather input in hopes that the plan will be ready to share this fall. When completed, it will lay out next steps we can to take as a City and as a community to solve the problem of racial economic disparities in Minneapolis.