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Why the Black Unemployment Rate Refuses to Fall

She hands out flyers and feels compelled to stop whenever she passes gatherings of black men to ask if anyone needs work. Almost always someone says yes.

She directs them to vacancies in companies where she knows people in charge of human resources. At one time, a given van transported them to work sites if they did not have a route.

But companies sometimes reject applicants outright, says Jacobs, who partners with Black Workers Matter, a group that fights racism in hiring and in the workplace on the West Side and near industrial districts. TIF of the western suburbs.

“These young men who come to my house want to work,” she told HR professionals. “Give them a chance.”

To create jobs, some community organizations are tackling neighborhood economic development.

At Englewood, about 25 percent of residents don’t have a high school diploma or GED, and many residents don’t have internet access or basic computer skills, says Cecile DeMello, executive director. of Teamwork Englewood, one of the project’s community partners.

Residents can access 280,000 jobs within a 30-minute radius, while residents of the city’s busiest neighborhoods can access 1 million jobs within that same travel radius, says Sana Syed, senior director of initiatives strategies at Inner-City Muslim Action Network, another community partner. .

The multimillion-dollar Go Green on Racine project, funded by a mix of public and philanthropic dollars, aims to create jobs, housing, access to healthy food and close the wealth gap by developing a commercial district vibrant 63rd Street in the heart of Englewood.

Businesses from the project developments are expected to create at least 200-300 jobs and help retain dollars in the neighborhood.

“Between Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Teamwork Englewood and our other employment partners, we are finding ways to bring people into different industries where they can take advantage of any new skills or trade they have learned,” says DeMello.

A project like Go Green on Racine could not be done by community organizations – CBOs – alone, Syed says.

“You need the public sector, you need the private sector, you need business involvement,” she says. “This problem was not created by CBOs, and it cannot be solved by CBOs alone.”

Climb the career ladder

Essential workers, disproportionately people of color, quit in large numbers during the pandemic as they faced care demands, higher risk of infection and other pressures.

However, many wish to improve their situation.

“What we’re seeing now is that people are leaving lower-paying, entry-level and semi-skilled jobs and either choosing entrepreneurship or realizing there are better-paying jobs out there,” said Robert Johnson, director economic. Inclusion Manager at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Even before the pandemic, job seekers were increasingly pursuing careers that didn’t require a college degree.

“There’s a growing increase in accreditation, micro-accreditation and certification programs; we’ve rolled out those types of programs as well,” Johnson said. “The value proposition of a $200,000 college education for a $50,000 paid job doesn’t resonate with people.”

In an effort to close the wealth gap, the Y’s Thrive 2025 initiative aims to move 1,000 people into high-growth, high-demand jobs over the next three years. Lack of access to these jobs accounts for about 16% of the nation’s racial wealth gap, Johnson says.

A pipefitter by trade, Herman Pride, owner of Complete Mechanical Piping on the West Side, set his sights on growing a business that employed up to 40 people. He didn’t even know what a pipe fitter was until 1994 when a friend told him.

His first big project was a $200,000 contract with Cook County in 2016. This year he already has $10 million on the books.

“My intention was to have a place where I could hire African Americans because that was a big deal with a lot of the big companies in town,” says Pride, who has a degree in electrical engineering. “I could see a lot of us weren’t working much.”

To hire more people and procure more supplies to undertake larger projects, Pride needed access to capital. Like many businesses, he doesn’t always get paid on time.

He turned to the US Minority Contractors Association and Hire360, an industry-led, community-focused organization of developers, general contractors and unions that supports small businesses and minorities with direct investment and development. ‘other services.

Since Pride started his business, he has won contracts at O’Hare International Airport, the Illinois Tollway, the Chicago Park District, and several major hospitals and water reclamation districts, among other projects.

It started without financial support. “It was strictly out of pocket,” he says. “I just went up my way.”

Black entrepreneurs seek to play a role

“We need to create opportunities for these small businesses to grow so they can hire, because they typically hire from the (black) community,” says YWCA’s Johnson. “That’s how you transform communities.”

Robiar Smith strives to do just that.

She launched RB Pest Solutions in her living room in 2016, and the Chatham-based company, which serves commercial and residential properties, is hiring.

“Businesses are the heart of the community” and can elevate it, says Smith, whose company often teams up with community groups on service projects.

The company hosts job fairs and recently expanded to Indiana.

“As we continue to bring more businesses to neighborhoods and partner with corporations and other businesses, this creates a great opportunity for us to create more jobs,” says Smith, a former computing.

“When that happens,” she adds, “communities are able to thrive, and it also gives us an opportunity to recycle money back into the neighborhood.”

Jobs hidden in plain sight

Charles, who runs Show Strategy, the full service contractor for trade shows and conventions including Expo Chicago, has opportunities that many African Americans don’t know about.

After the 2008 recession ravaged the hospitality industry and while working for another company, Charles and his department of 18 employees had to be laid off and their jobs outsourced. Charles started his own business and hired 10.

His former employer became his biggest client.

He says few African Americans know about jobs in the convention and trade show industry, even though many don’t need specialized skills.

“It’s plug-and-play,” Charles explains. “You have jobs where there is a certain level of skill, but a lot of these things are pretty basic.”

The job can be lucrative for clerical and skilled trades positions, ranging from $40,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on how many projects an individual gets. (Salaried office positions sometimes include commissions.)

Employers evaluating black applicants should consider skills cultivated in other industries that transfer well to their industry, Charles says. A recent hire for a customer support position, for example, has previously worked at a bank.

His last five hires to the management team were African American. But challenges remain. Only three of its 50 subcontracted carpenters for the recent Expo Chicago were black.

That’s why in the future, Charles wants to focus more on workforce development.

“I’ve had a lot more intention of hiring people of color in recent years,” he says. “My search was really more specific to people who look like me because we’re underrepresented in this industry.”

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