James Daniel doesn’t remember the last time he had a real job.
For many years, he’s bounced back and forth between jobs as a truck driver, construction worker and personal security guard. But none of them came with benefits. No health care. No retirement plans. No paid sick leave.
“It’s rough out there,” he noted. “Especially for us, African-Americans, it’s hard to find a career where you can be there for 10, 20 years. And if you find one, it’s hard to stay there. There are a lot of obstacles you have to go through.”
Since the end of the Great Recession, Minnesota has emerged boasting an enviable economic record, with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent and nearly 28,000 jobs added over the past year, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.
But as Daniel knows well, the good times aren’t being shared by all Minnesotans. A recent report released by the Minnesota Budget Project — an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits that provides research and analysis on budget issues — reveals that many racial and ethnic groups continue to face high unemployment rates. Indeed, the people in Minnesota who are most likely to be unemployed tend to be young, less educated, single parents and those of color — the very same groups who were also hit the hardest during the recession.
Groups most likely to be unemployed
Minnesotans who don’t have a high school diploma or college degree are most likely to be unemployed, said Clark Biegler, a policy analyst with the Minnesota Budget Project, who authored the report. In fact, Minnesotans without high school education are four times more likely to be unemployed than those who completed high school.
Over 9 percent of individuals who didn’t graduate from high school were unemployed in 2015; compared to 5 percent for those with a high school diploma.
Another factor is age. The unemployment rate for Minnesotans between 16 and 24 was more than 6 percent last year, the highest for any age group. (During the recession, the rate reached as high as 13 percent.)
Compared to other groups, in fact, older people are doing better. For those between 45 and 64, unemployment was 2.8 percent; for the 25- to 44-year-olds, it was 3.6 percent.
Another group also facing serious levels of joblessness is single parents. In fact, at 5 percent in 2015, the unemployment rate for single parents was more than twice that of married couples. Last year, unemployment among married couples with children was 2.1 percent; for those without children, it was 2 percent.
The most striking disparities were around race and employment. The report indicates that unemployment for black Minnesotans was 11.7 percent last year, compared to 3.2 for whites.
Since the recession, unemployment has improved for each group. In 2007, for instance, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 14.5 percent; for whites, 4 percent.
Whether the groups are categorized as young, single or uneducated, the unemployment disparity mainly falls on the communities of color. That’s because people of color are more likely to be young or have lower education levels, Biegler noted.
But there is more to the unemployment issue than just those barriers. Biegler said racial discrimination also plays a crucial role in the unemployment disparity communities of color face. For example, even when researchers controlled for age and education, they still found high rates of unemployment among communities of color compared to whites.
“That definitely points to structural barriers in the labor market for people of color,” Biegler explained. “And that certainly includes unintentional or intentional discrimination.”
State Rep. Rena Moran echoed the same sentiment: “These communities are looking for work. They’re doing their due diligence to find jobs and they’re not getting hired. And some of that, we know, is because of discrimination.”
Biegler noted that the structure of the state’s workforce and education systems as well as transportation and housing decisions can either create barriers or opportunities for workers.
That’s why she’s urging lawmakers to come up with a plan to remove barriers to employment for the affected communities. One way to do that, Biegler and Moran suggested, is to expand access to affordable child care, given its ability to help parents in the labor market — and to help employers hire and retain employees.
Minnesota currently has a program, Basic Sliding Fee, which helps parents pay for child care as they look for jobs or participate in the workforce. But this program doesn’t guarantee access for every family — with many counties putting parents on a waiting list because the program can only offer services to a limited number of people.
Today, more than 7,000 families are on the waiting list for the program — and most of them come from Hennepin, Anoka and Dakota counties. Biegler also urged lawmakers to increase funding for the Basic Sliding Fee so thousands of low-income working parents can access the program.
Biegler has also called for state officials to underwrite a law that would allow parents to take earned sick time. Last month, Minneapolis has become the first city in the state to pass such law requiring employers with six or more staffers to offer paid sick leave.
Moran and Biegler want to see the same benefit extended to the more than one million Minnesota workers who don’t currently have it.
For James Daniel, access to sick leave is important. That’s why he enrolled in construction courses at Summit Academy OIC in February — and why he set a goal for himself: To secure a career that would not only give him a reliable income, but also benefits. “I know a lot of people who gave up on finding work,” he said. “But I know me; I’m going to work. Period!”