MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, put a national spotlight on systemic racism and social inequities. Just a few weeks later, the state’s unemployment rate for people of color is further hitting home how real and current those issues are.
“It’s really shocking that number is the way that it is,” said Kimberly Jones.
Jones is an African American woman and was a Minnesota-based flight attendant recruiter, who lost her job in March.
According to data from Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, she is a part of the half of all Black workers in the state who have lost their jobs and have had to file for unemployment during the past five months. Right now, Black workers in Minnesota are almost three times as likely to still be unemployed, compared to white workers. That’s significantly higher than the national average, which also shows Black workers across the country struggling with unemployment at a higher rate than white workers.
“We have been suffering and going through this kind of social inequity for so long,” said Jones. “It is sad to say you almost get used to the norm. I get used to the redlining. I get used to not being able to get a job. I get used to the discrimination. My hope is that with everything that has happened together the way that it has, it will begin to shed light on things that absolutely have to change.”
The issue of people of color having disproportionately higher unemployment in Minnesota and around the country is not a new issue or one just isolated to this economic downturn, according to experts like William Rodgers with Rutgers University. Rodgers is the Chief Economist and a Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“The big concern there that I have is that this is potentially writing the same rules we have seen in previous recessions,” said Rodgers. “African Americans, Latinos, and other groups, but especially African Americans, they are the first ones to be fired and they are the last ones to be hired when there is a recovery.”
Given the recent national awareness and concern over systemic inequities for people of color, there is action being taken to change the course of history this time.
“Employers need deep help in addressing the institutional racism that exists within their walls and to determine really what kind of actions they can take to really start to create new policies and practices and new ways of being as it relates to how they hire talent,” said Towanna Black.
Black is the Founder and CEO of Minnesota’s Center of Economic Inclusion. Her organization recently created several new positions to help private companies and other employers address their role in this inequity and unemployment disparity.
“We do an assessment upfront that helps employers understand, almost across 200 dimensions, what is happening inside your business and how those policies and practices either help your employees move forward economically or hold them back,” said Black. “We are glad to say that employers, not only in Minneapolis/St. Paul but across the country are reaching out.”
While employers work on change, someone like Jones has changed her mind about returning to the workforce that historically has worked against her and other people of color. She has instead decided to work on a nonprofit passion project, turning her home into a shelter for woman called The Genesis House Service Corporation.