By Joel Franklin
I attended Governor Dayton’s Job Summit last week. It is clear that Governor Dayton and the business leaders of this State are very concerned about Minnesota’s job crisis.
Minnesota has a 6.9 percent unemployment rate with 205,000 Minnesotans out of work. Even though Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, the theme of the day is that the future does not look promising for unskilled workers.
Minnesota ranks 48th out of 50 states for hiring high-school dropouts. That may account for much of the 22 percent unemployment rate in the African American community and the 41 percent unemployment rate for Black youth ages 16-19, since Minnesota has a dropout rate of 62 percent for Black students according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
The presenters at the summit stressed the fact that the good-paying jobs that you could get without a high-school diploma are a thing of the past. “If you don’t have an education past high school, you are not going to be able to support yourself and your family.”
The speakers were concerned that Minnesota has only a 76 percent graduation rate; they emphasize that we have to get that up to 100 percent. If the White community is nervous, then the Black community needs to be terrified, since the graduation rate for Black students is only 38 percent.
The speakers stated that we don’t have an employment problem — we have a growing skill gap that has left many of the unemployed unqualified for the available jobs. In the United States we have a nine percent unemployment rate, but there are three million jobs sitting vacant that can’t be filled because people don’t have the skills necessary to fill them.
In Minnesota, 42 percent of the open jobs require post-secondary schooling, and 31 percent require some form of occupational license. According to the State Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota businesses have about 54,000 jobs available. Thousands of these open jobs are managerial, computer and healthcare jobs that pay up to $35 an hour.
The Black community is in a crisis situation now. Our children are not being trained for the jobs of the future. If we don’t prepare our children, there will be no future for our young people, only poverty, prison or death.
Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, told the 800 participants at the summit that business leaders can’t wait for President Obama, Congress, or even Governor Dayton to point the way for economic growth and job creation. ”We cannot be searching for the savior.” Likewise, the Black community cannot wait for government leaders to solve our problems.
Radical problems call for radical solutions. We as a community must put pressure on the schools to actually close the achievement gap. The schools have to ensure that our kids are prepared for and able to succeed in post-secondary schools.
We do not have time for the politics of the school districts or the teachers unions. If it takes a longer school day, then we need to do that; if it takes a longer school year, then we need to do that; if it takes getting rid of ineffective teachers and principals, then we have to do that. We must do whatever it takes to properly educate our children.
In addition to the schools doing their part, the community must ensure that we instill in our young people the old traditional values of taking school seriously and staying out of trouble with the law. It is a myth that a juvenile will have a clean juvenile criminal record once they turn 18 years old. Nowadays, even a minor shoplifting offense can follow a young person for the rest of their lives, hurting their chances of getting a job, housing, or even admission into some colleges and universities.
It is up to all of us to make sure our kids are prepared and have the skills that they need to reach their full potential in life.
Joel Franklin is second vice president of the St. Paul NAACP; he welcomes reader responses to email@example.com. For further information, go to www.naacp-stpaul.org.