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Yes, the unemployment rate among black Minnesotans is at a record low. But it’s still almost double the state average

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash
While the unemployment rate for black residents has seen a significant decline in recent years — in 2011, it reached a high of 25 percent — it still lags significantly behind the overall unemployment rate in Minnesota, which now stands at 3.1 percent.

In January, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter he was “so happy” about the unemployment rate for black Americans dropping to 6.8 percent for the first time in 45 years.

Following the announcement were streams of reports and commentaries from research institutions and media organizations nationwide. Each report highlighted the improved labor market participation for the black community.

Among those institutions was the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which mentioned in a recent report that the jobless rate for black Americans in the state decreased to a “historic low” of 6.9 percent in February. By May, that rate had dropped again, to 6.1 percent. 

But while the unemployment rate for black residents has seen a significant decline in recent years — in 2011, it reached a high of 25 percent — it still lags significantly behind the overall unemployment rate in Minnesota, which now stands at 3.1 percent.

Which is why Shawn Lewis, a Twin Cities expert on workforce development, and others want to shift the focus from celebrating the current 6 percent unemployment rate among black Minnesotans to doing more to help connect those unemployed to meaningful job opportunities.

“It’s nice that things are trending in a better direction,” Lewis said, “but our nation has been way too tolerant about having higher levels of black unemployment.”

The need for intentional approaches

The unemployment rate among blacks Americans has long been higher compared to other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. A 2010 study by the Economic Policy Institute, for example, showed that black residents in the Twin Cities area — as in many major cities across the nation — were about three times more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. 

That isn’t always because blacks in the workforce tend to be younger and less educated than whites. Discrimination remains a factor, since blacks with similar levels of education as whites are more likely to be unemployed. “African Americans with a high school diploma or GED were three times as likely to be unemployed as whites with the same level of education,” the study notes. “Even if blacks had the exact same educational profile as whites in Minneapolis, they would still have a much higher unemployment rate.” 

Beyond racial discrimination, black jobseekers face unique institutional barriers that keep them out of the hiring process. Even if some companies want to diversify their workforce, Lewis noted, the hiring managers aren’t often successful in tapping into potential candidates of color.

That’s because the managers of the most companies in the U.S. tend to be white, and oftentimes they rely on their personal and professional networks to fill job vacancies. This means the employees they end up selecting will look like them.

To address that, many employers in the Twin Cities have been working closely with educational institutions, nonprofits and government agencies to train and recruit candidates.

This kind of collaboration, however, has mostly focused on those seeking low-skill positions in construction, manufacturing and health care industries, which are experiencing a workforce shortage. 

Success depends on all Minnesotans participating in the workforce

To increase participation for black job seekers of all levels of education and skills, said Clark Goldenrod, a senior policy analyst at the Minnesota Budget Project, there must be intentional and direct approaches to dismantling structural and systemic barriers. That includes creating an adequate public education system that ensures that all students receive quality education and skills to thrive during life in college and beyond, she said.

Goldenrod added that a large number of those unemployed individuals include black residents who emigrated from other countries. In many cases, when these individuals come to Minnesota they’re  unable to put their skills and credentials to use. 

To address the issue, Goldenrod called on the state government and employers to come together and find a common ground to help immigrants get back to the workforce. This is especially important, she added, as more and more people continue to age out of the labor market.   

“Our state’s economic strength relies on all Minnesotans successfully participating in the workforce,” she said. “So making economic opportunities available to them and preparing them for good jobs should be a high priority.” 

Beyond that, Lewis added, employers should acknowledge the fact that the state’s demographics continue to change as people of color have seen a dramatic increase in the last three decades. 

That means, he said, hiring managers should start taking risks on people they hadn’t traditionally hired when the job market wasn’t as tight — by taking in workers, for instance, who may have only 70 or 50 percent of what it takes to perform a task and are willing to learn the rest on the job.

“The way employers hire and the pool they used to rely on is changing in front their very eyes,” Lewis said of employers. “So they have got to do things differently. If you find out what you do now is not working out, then you need to change it.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 06/19/2018 - 03:19 pm.

    Unemployment Rate among Blacks

    The actually unemployment rate, quite frankly, is way above the government reports. For one thing, if you have unemployment and you are at the end of 6 months, you will not be counted as being unemployed. This is because you are not receiving an unemployment check any more, so you will not be counted as being unemployed. Many people are looking for jobs beyond six months. Also many jobs are in the suburbs which may or may not be in the bus or train lines. If you are in your 60’s you may only be able to get temporary work, like myself. Age discrimination is something employers get a way with so easily. They can always say it’s something else. Forty percent of the work force works at temporary jobs and this is never brought out in the unemployment statistics. Most of those individuals will be unemployed some time during the year. This is not always reflected in the unemployment statistics. You won’t see many writers being honest about the true employment rate. Before the recession there were many more permanent jobs. In fact I had a job for close to six years when I was laid off in the recession. Every since that time, I have gone between unemployment and contract work because there are way more contract jobs out there than permanent jobs.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/19/2018 - 09:22 pm.

      Here are definitions from the BLS

      U-1, persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force;
      U-2, job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force;
      U-3, total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (this is the definition used for the official unemployment rate);
      U-4, total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers;
      U-5, total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other marginally attached workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers; and
      U-6, total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/19/2018 - 07:05 pm.

    A significant issue here is the BLS’ U3 vs U6 stats

    Everyone loves to quote the U3 number. It is mostly the only unemployment number you will ever hear journalists refer to.

    The U6 number includes discouraged workers who no longer look for employment, and also marginally employed workers who are in part-time jobs but desire full-time jobs which they cannot obtain.

    If you want to know what the U6 number is, you’re probably going to have to look it up on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site, because the main reporting of the main stream media most always refers exclusively to U3. The BLS site is huge, complex, and I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to find the pertinent numbers, but they are all there if you’re willing to dig a little.

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