The Minneapolis Fire Department and two private organizations are increasing efforts to address the racial disparities in the workforce.
Black unemployment in Minnesota continued to rise last year despite the decreasing unemployment rates for Hispanic and white people, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
This is the breakdown of unemployment rates as of December 2015 compared to one year ago:
- Black or African American: 14.1 percent, a 2.7 percent increase
- Hispanic or Latino, 3.8 percent, a 3.4 percent decrease
- White, 2.9 percent, a 0.5 percent decrease
- All workers statewide, 3.8 percent, a 0.2 percent decrease
Minnesota has the third-highest unemployment gap between white and black people in the country – with the jobless rate among blacks almost 3.7 times higher than among whites, according to a study released last year by the Center for Popular Democracy.
The issue has been raised by state lawmakers who intend to discuss possible actions they could take to reverse this trend in the upcoming legislative session, with Gov. Mark Dayton hoping to push through a $15 million package to help reduce the economic gap between white people and people of color.
Private sector steps up
In the meantime, Minnesota's private, nonprofit and public sectors are already making efforts to address racial inequality themselves.
Richard Copeland leads Thor Construction – the largest minority-owned business in the state of Minnesota and one of the largest black-owned businesses in the country, according to its website.
Twin Cities Business reports that to make a bigger difference, Copeland has decided to move Thor Construction and its sister company, Thor Sustainability, to north Minneapolis from Fridley.
"There needs to be more opportunity in that community for employment," he told the magazine, saying as his companies move to the poorest part of Minneapolis he's in talks with 10 other firms about following him. "For our region to be great, we have to utilize all of our assets.”"
"If we don’t step up and do something about it, we don’t think anybody else will," he added.
Copeland mentions that at one time he employed Jamar Clark, whose death at the hands of police in November sparked major protests in north Minneapolis, and prompted a wider discussion at state level about addressing racial inequality.
Nonprofit initiative aims to employ 2,000
Northside Funders Group, an umbrella group of about 20 foundations, government and businesses that collectively invest in nonprofits, launched an initiative this month called North@Work aimed at employing more black men in North Minneapolis, reported the Star Tribune.
The program launched after a year of dissecting benefits and pitfalls of existing programs, gathering feedback from employers and analyzing the experiences of black men, said Finance & Commerce.
The current pilot-program will train and place 25 men in sustaining jobs. By 2017, the goal is to have 400 men in the program, and then eventually place 2,000 men with living-wage jobs by 2020.
Fire Department starts with high schoolers
The program – which has been introduced atRoosevelt High School and North High – is aimed at training students to become certified EMTs, so that by the time they finish high school they're eligible for jobs within the department.
Of the 415 firefighters currently working for the city, 71 percent are white, 14 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are American Indian, 2 percent are Asian and 3 percent are multiracial, while just 12 percent are female, the newspaper notes.