MILWAUKEE — State lawmakers came together Thursday to address solutions on racial disparities and inequities in Wisconsin. While the web of inequities is vast, Thursday’s subcommittee focused on Education and Economy.
“This health crisis did not create new problems, but it’s magnifying preexisting issues,” State Rep. Kalan Haywood Jr. said.
Haywood is one of several lawmakers on the Task Force on Racial Disparities. It was created on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha Police in August. House Speaker Robin Vos formed the task force which has several subcommittees, including the one Haywood is a part of.
Thursday, representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development spoke on what’s being done to help communities of color find quality, family-supporting wage jobs.
The disparities presented paint a stark picture. Take the unemployment rates facing the Hispanic community, at roughly six percent. It’s less than double the white unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, and nearly half the unemployment rate of African Americans, 11.6 percent.
However, the disparity can be seen in poverty rates. Hispanic people in Wisconsin have a poverty rate of 22.8 percent while the white community is about 8.9 percent.
“I’m a numbers kind of person,” State Rep. Robert Wittke, (R) Racine said. “That would lead me to look at some strategies that would try to determine why they are stuck in low wage jobs. My point is, their unemployment rate is low. They’re looking for something.”
The subcommittee learned of strategies being put in place to reduce these disparities. The DWD points to the reason for this wide of a jump can be attributed to educational disparities.
According to the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, Wisconsin has the worst Black-white achievement gap of any state. Experts say this is the main reason why people of color make a small percentage of income compared to their white counterparts.
In Milwaukee, African Americans make just 42 cents to the dollar, while Hispanics statewide make 47 cents to the dollar.
"If you expect to make over $35,000 per year in Wisconsin, you need some sort of postsecondary education,” Dennis Winters with the Bureau of Workforce Information and Technical Support said. “That can be certificates, apprenticeships, technical college, the whole spectrum. Something past a high school education, you need to get a sustainable job in the future.”
Therein lies the problem. African Americans and the Hispanic community finish high school at much lower rates than white people in Wisconsin.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, over the last four years, 93.8 percent of white students graduate high school. Only 82.8 percent of Hispanic students graduate and even fewer African American students, at 71.3 percent.
It makes it more difficult to pursue a typical four-year degree, but the DWD says there are programs in place to help. The Youth Apprenticeship Program gets juniors or seniors in high school involved so they can begin accumulating credit or time, to be attributed to certificates or degrees once they graduate from high school.
Last year, more than 6,000 students participated statewide.
“We can make money available for those in high school, particularly low-income youth, to take credits to technical school while still enrolled in high school,” Bruce Palzkill, Deputy Division Administrator said. “There are many examples to access funds and apprenticeships are another way.”
"This apprentice navigator is someone who knows industries, goes to high schools and works with individuals interested in apprenticeship to guide them through process,” Michele Carter, Administrator with the Division of Employment and Training said. “Connecting the dots is difficult. We saw a gap and figured out how we can optimize that. We get them a navigator to work their way through that. The navigator is helpful for individuals so they don’t get lost in the system and give up.”
The DWD is also focused on helping prepare incarcerated people to re-enter the workforce. Communities of color are disproportionately imprisoned in Wisconsin and the entire country. The DWD says there are currently four prison job centers in the state right now, with four more planned to start next year. This will help people find strong, family-supporting wage jobs when they’re released.