By Ralph Hollmon
President & CEO
Milwaukee Urban League
Even in better economic times, unemployment in the Black community has been higher than the national average. However, with the recent economic downturn and loss of jobs, the unemployment rate in the Black community is at an alarmingly unacceptable high rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the adult Black unemployment rate is 15.8 percent. and the Black youth unemployment rate is over 40 percent. UWM Professor Marc Levine’s studies shows that in Milwaukee nearly 50 percent of the working age Black males are unemployed. Some may want to debate which data is more accurate, but no matter which data you use, the unemployment rate is too high and we need a greater sense of urgency to reduce it. Currently there are public and private sector initiatives underway to strengthen our economy and create jobs. In addition, there are a number of community organizations, including the Milwaukee Urban League that works diligently to help people prepare for and find jobs. However, the number of people needing assistance is overwhelming and in spite of our efforts, the Black unemployment rate remains stubbornly high.
There are no quick, easy solutions to fix this problem but there are some things we can do:
- Keep working to improve our K-12 educational system so all children, whether in public, choice, charter or private schools receive a quality education that prepares them for post-secondary training or entry into the world of work. • Support Mayor Barrett’s Youth Employment Initiative. We need more summer and year-round job opportunities for youth so they can earn money and develop work habits at an early age.
- We need to be more effective at matching the unemployed with current job openings. Quite often this will require retraining and to help make this happen, the public sector needs to provide more incentives for employers to do on-the-job training for unemployed workers.
- Support Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin Works Program which focuses on training and connecting the unemployed to available jobs.
- Recently Master Lock and other companies were recognized by President Obama for insourcing jobs back to the U.S. We need more companies to insource jobs back to the central city so transportation is less of a barrier for people getting to work.
- Create more short-term transitional jobs. This will give people a productive way to earn a living and for those who don’t have a lot of work experience, or who have been out of the workforce for long periods of time, it helps prepare them for the jobs that will be available when the economy improves.
- Support growth and development of minority owned businesses. Strong minority businesses create jobs and help stabilize neighborhoods.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of actions to address unemployment, but doing these things in a coordinated manner will certainly help. If we can lower Black unemployment and give people an opportunity to be more self-reliant with jobs that pay a family supporting wage, that would not only benefit the Black community, it would be beneficial for everyone in our city, region and state.