A new study released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that blacks in Minneapolis are 3.1 times as likely to be unemployed as whites – the worst level of disparity among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the nation. These findings are consistent with data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that last year, “Minnesota had the nation’s second largest gap between unemployment rates for whites and African-Americans and between whites and Latinos” (MPR, May 24, 2010).
In a state that prides itself on being above average, the reality of significant disparities among Minnesotans is too often overlooked. It is already widely known that Minnesota has one of the largest educational achievement gaps in the nation. But the gaps in educational attainment don’t explain the wide disparities in unemployment. EPI found that among blacks and whites with similar levels of education, blacks were still much more likely to be unemployed in Minneapolis.
It is more than just educational differences that is making it difficult for African-Americans to find employment in our state. According to U.S. Census data, Minnesota remains a very white state. Couple a largely homogenous population with significant cutbacks in public services for vulnerable populations, and experts say minority communities face signficant challenges. It’s likely the unemployed are finding it difficult to get adequate and appropriate job training, lack the social connections that are so important in job hunting during a recession, and are coming up against prejudice during the hiring process.
This isn’t just a moral problem, it’s also an economic problem. Remember, Minnesota’s demographics are changing. In the coming years a large segment of our workforce will be retiring, and the future workforce will be far more diverse. Ensuring that all Minnesotans succeed in school and succeed in work is vital for the future economic success of the state. Business leaders agree. The Itasca Project, an alliance of private sector CEOs and public officials, has been examining strategies to ensure Minnesota’s future economic competitiveness. One of their priorities is addressing disparities in the state.
If we are going to build a state that will thrive in the coming decades, we need to take a look around to make sure everyone in the state is ready to contribute.