COVID-19 has impacted nearly everyone in Minnesota. But there has been a disparate impact on Minnesotans of color and Indigenous residents. Across state government, and within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), we are working hard to address these disparities.
The first step in addressing disparities is defining them. Since March 16, 17.8% of all White people in Minnesota’s labor force have applied for unemployment insurance benefits, while 31.4% of Indigenous people and People of Color in Minnesota’s labor force have applied for benefits.
For African Americans, the share of the labor force that has applied for unemployment benefits is slightly higher at 33.2%. This is a startling and sobering statistic: one in every three African American Minnesotans has applied for unemployment benefits after losing their job after mid-March.
At DEED, we are working with community members, the Governor’s Office and other state agencies and offices to ensure that employment gains made by African Americans since the Great Recession are not lost as we move into economic recovery in the coming weeks and months.
We’re proactively engaging in outreach with Minnesota communities through a series of weekly telephone calls. Starting on April 2, we invited more than 200 community leaders three times a week to ask us questions by phone. We have also engaged in forums organized by elected leaders, as well as in community newspapers like this one, and on radio and TV.
We want workers to know that unemployment insurance benefits exist precisely to help people who have been laid off or had their hours reduced through no fault of their own. If you have been laid off from your job or had your hours reduced because of COVID-19, you deserve assistance. You may even qualify if you work two jobs, if you are an independent contractor, or if you are self-employed.
We want workers to know that applying for unemployment benefits does not cost you anything and you don’t need to pay someone else to help you apply. If you have internet access, you can apply online at uimn.org.
Staff in the unemployment insurance office at DEED work seven days a week to serve Minnesota workers impacted by COVID-19. We have disbursed emergency benefits faster than almost any other state in the country. On April 8, eligible workers began receiving an additional $600 a week in unemployment compensation benefits and they were extended by 13 weeks starting April 15. And on April 24, we began sending emergency benefits payments to eligible self-employed Minnesotans.
We know that the past month and a half has been difficult. We know that COVID-19 is revealing the racial disparities and inequality that already existed in Minnesota. As we move into economic reopening and recovery, we will rebuild based on core values of prosperity, security, and community. When we rebuild, we will construct a more equitable Minnesota.
Maureen Ramirez is director of DEED’s Office of Economic Opportunity and serves on the Governor’s Working Group for Community Resiliency and Recovery. You can reach Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org.