Education gaps, high incarceration strongly impacts Black unemployment
By Charles Hallman
The “intolerably high unemployment rates” for Blacks in Minnesota has been oft-discussed in recent years, but a new Minnesota State Advisory Committee report on unemployment disparities provided a further analysis on the issue.
“There have been previous reports that focus on unemployment disparities,” noted University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds on “Unemployment Disparity in Minnesota,” released in December by the Minnesota State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The report provided “an in-depth analysis” on several areas that has impacted Blacks in Minnesota, such as arrest records and criminal justice contacts, access to capital for Black-owned businesses, and lack of access to government contracts.
The report also “looked at disparities across the board facing African Americans so that we can paint a more complete picture on how many of these systems interact and collective impact that these systems have on the African American community,” she pointed out.
“African Americans across the board are experiencing major gaps” in areas such as housing, criminal justice, low graduation rates in both high school and college, and trying to start and sustain business, admitted Levy-Pounds in a MSR interview last week. “It wasn’t a surprise to know that African Americans are unemployed at a rate roughly three times the rate of Whites in Minnesota.
“Those disparities that African Americans face impact their quality of life. The report was written such that the average layperson can pick it up and understand what exactly is going on.”
She noted that the report was largely based on testimonies given during a September 2011 forum. “We had several people across the community who provided testimony that led to the basis of many of the recommendations that we put forth in the report.”
Among those who testified was Judge Pamela Alexander, then-president of the Council on Crime and Justice, who presented a study that her group had completed. “They sent out testers, mostly Black and White men, to apply for positions, and what they found was shocking,” recall Levy-Pounds. “The results of that study showed that a Black man without a criminal record had a lower likelihood of getting a callback than a White man with a criminal record. That shows some underlying bias or some discrimination that occurring based on the color of a person’s skin or cultural background.”
“African Americans have four times the rate of criminal records as their White counterparts,” states Levy-Pounds. “We’re five percent of the population but roughly 36 percent of the prison population here in Minnesota. Some of those records aren’t necessarily for commission of a crime — some of them are arrest records that didn’t lead to a conviction.”
Added to other factors such as racial profiling and minor drug arrests, according to the professor, Blacks later “face repercussions when they apply for jobs and look for affordable housing.”
Minnesota has passed “ban the box” legislation for public sector jobs, but over 90 percent of private-sector employers today do background checks, said Levy-Pounds, who added that some are now using “delay the box” hiring methods: “At a later point throughout the employment application process, an employer can actually inquire about a person’s criminal history” during a second interview or a job offer, she noted.
“My concern is although we have banned the box… discrimination occurs when people with criminal histories go to apply for employment positions.”
“The [Minnesota] labor force participation rate is shrinking, particularly for men,” says the report. “Our African American population as a whole is about five years younger than their White counterparts,” said Levy-Pounds.
Educational disparities among Blacks also is a prime factor for the current unemployment disparities, which later creates a “skills gap,” noted Levy-Pounds. “How do you close those gaps to ensure that people are prepared not only for the jobs of today but also jobs of tomorrow,” she asked.
“There are thousands of available jobs right now that African Americans can apply for. The problem is that the current pool of people that are unemployed do not match the skills that are required to fill those jobs.”
The report also discussed the need to increase access to capital for Black-owned business, said Levy-Pounds, who also co-chairs a coalition of 40-plus local organizations called “Everybody In.”
“We’ve heard first hand from African American and Native American business owners on how they are challenged on how they are receiving access to capital, how banks are not lending to them at the rate they are lending their White counterparts,” reported the professor.
These business owners also lack networking access “to get their foot in the door” in bidding for public and private contracts, she added. “How can we increase access to equity when they want to compete for contracts?”
Levy-Pounds suggested, “I want to issue a call to action to our community. There are things in our community that we see — [for example] high rates of youth unemployment — that we could come together to address. We need the entrepreneurs [to] rise up in our community and to focus not just on starting a business for self-employment but starting a business to create jobs for young people and the chronically unemployed people within our community.”
In the end, she believes the report can serve as “a road map to show us what levers to push, but it’s going to take the people making the decision that they want to see change and be willing to work for that change. And be unwilling to take no for an answer.
“I think advocates who care about racial justice and economic justice can use the report as a tool to advocate for changes in our laws, our policies and in the ways we do business in Minnesota.”
For the full “Unemployment Disparity in Minnesota” report, go to www.usccr.gov/pubs/MNSAC.
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