By Charles Hallman
Jermaine Toney is lead researcher for the Organizing Apprenticeship Project.
-Photo by Charles Hallman
The Minnesota legislature and Governor Mark Dayton are now debating how to solve a $6.2 billion budget deficit. However, a new Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) report says that racial equity and the state’s long-term economic vitality are directly related, and that any economic-recovery effort must include racial equity.
With the state’s Black unemployment at 22.5 percent — almost three times higher than that of the overall state jobless rate — OAP Lead Researcher Jermaine Toney said in an interview last week, “We wanted to put some solutions out there to some of the biggest challenges that the state is facing.”
As a result, the Minneapolis-based OAP cosponsored the first in a series of racial equity briefs, which was released in December. “We want to use it to influence policy leaders and opinion leaders,” Toney asserted. “The last couple of weeks we have been meeting with the racial-equity champions in the [Minnesota] House and the Senate.”
The December OAP report supported the continuation of the Urban Initiative Program (UIP), which was created in 1993 to boost jobs in selected low-income communities around the state, especially in the Twin Cities area.
The OAP report pointed out that of the nonprofit organizations certified by the State to receive grants from this program, 93 percent were awarded grants, along with the 442 jobs that were created between 1995 and 2009. “There are some proven solutions that are working,” and the UIP is one of them, believes Toney.
More availability of venture capital investment networks for small businesses, including Black-owned businesses, strengthening public-private partnerships and increasing the state minimum wage are “key strategies” worth pursuing, says Toney. He also proposed the re-launch of the Minnesota Emergency Employment Development (MEED) program.
The OAP report noted that the MEED program put 7,400 people to work in its first six months, and more than 42,000 in three years from 1983 to 1987. It also noted that a smaller program currently exists in the Iron Range area, which has hired 230 new workers between 2009 and 2010.
“When we are making public investment decisions,” said Toney, “we [should] make sure that equity is at the center, so then [when] it comes to contracting and workforce that it’s actually working for communities of color, Black folk and women.
“The job seekers outnumber the jobs five-to-one, and if you are part time looking for full-time work, that number jumps to eight-to-one,” he continued. “What other strategies that could quickly and efficiently get jobs moving — that’s the MEED program. Basically it’s a job subsidy: Money comes from the State directly to the employer, with the stipulation that they hire people.
“We’re saying [that] you got to consider if you are going to make an investment…make sure that investment is explicit and proactive around addressing the unemployment disparities. We have to work together and move some of these things into law.”
Underemployment must be reported as well as unemployment, said Toney. The underemployed include people working part-time or temporary jobs, discouraged workers who have stopped looking for work and people who have used up their lifetime limit on welfare benefits but are not yet working.
“Who’s the faces of that? People of color, Black people and women,” surmised Toney, adding that Minnesota should be required by state law to report underemployment data labeled “U6” by the U.S. Department of Labor. “If we are not seeing the underemployment, we won’t do anything about it.”
Toney said that future policy briefs will center on such issues as education, criminal justice issues and youth. The OAP annual legislative report card also will be publicly released at the State Capitol on February 25.
“There will be a five-year review from 2005 to 2010, plus the 2010 report card. We also will unveil a proactive racial-equity agenda [for 2011],” he pointed out.
With now four Black legislators in St. Paul, “There is great new energy and leadership” on racial-equity issues in this year’s legislative session now underway, Toney believes. However, “We have to be thinking broader [because] they are not the only ones voting on legislation. We look forward to working with everyone.”
The focus needs to be on creating more jobs, especially the types of jobs that will help communities of color, women and low-income people who are hit the hardest among the jobless and other disparities, the OAP brief concludes. “If we have any economic and job package to move forward [in the state legislature], it has to explicitly and pro-actively address those disparities,” surmised Toney. “Once you start doing initiatives, we all start to do better, particularly communities hit the hardest.
“But if we don’t — if we continue [the] see-no-race, speak-no-race kind of policymaking, we will end up undermining the communities and prospects for the state,” he pointed out, “and actually the disparities will get worse.”
To read the entire OAP Racial Equity Policy Brief #1, go to www.oaproject.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.