Study shows nation's largest racial disparity for unemployment in Minneapolis

Experts delivered bleak statistics on minority unemployment Thursday to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission at a forum in Minneapolis.

The forum was prompted by a Economic Policy Institute study finding that the rate of unemployed African Americans in Minneapolis is three-times that of whites, the highest disparity in the country.

Experts told commission members that graduation rates and other indicators show the problem may worsen.

The Washington, D.C.-based institute measured unemployment in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas to find that the disparity between whites and blacks is highest in Minneapolis and Memphis, Tenn.

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State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said the findings are similar to those measured by the U.S. Census for all of Minnesota.

Gillaspy told the Civil Rights Commission's local advisory panel the unemployment rate among Minnesota's white workers is about 7 percent but is 20 percent for African Americans.

He said the state's declining high school graduation rate may worsen the problem. Seventy-six percent of the state's white high school students graduate, Gillaspy said. Graduation rates for Minnesota's African American, Latino and American Indian residents are much lower.

"About half of our children are graduating from high school, for the American Indian population it's slightly below 50 percent at 47 percent."

A wave of Baby Boomer expected to retire in upcoming years will open up employment for younger workers, Gillaspy said.

However, he said that scenario poses a problem as well, as too many Minnesotans, especially minority residents, lack the training to fill the jobs coming open.

"That differential is driving some of the unemployment rate," he said.

Minneapolis officials did not shrink from acknowledging the minority unemployment gap.

Mark Brinda, the city's workforce manager, suggested discrimination is a factor.

Brinda noted that as recently as 50 years ago, the city had explicit hiring and housing exclusions directed at Jewish people.

Those formal barriers have disappeared, but Brinda says intolerant attitudes have not.

"While this trend has thankfully changed for the Twin Cities Jewish community and formal job discrimination has ended, (it) does not appear to be the same trend with this 'insider, outsider' in the workforce when we look at blacks, American Indians, Asian Americans and Hispanics," Brinda said. "Today it seems to be, from my perspective, much more systemic, structural, embedded within institutions, making it much harder to identify and more easy to deny."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak earlier this week mentioned the unemployment gap was a serious problem. He proposed expanding the city's work experience program for young people.

The Civil Rights Commission panel also heard that state laws are making it more difficult for African Americans with a criminal record to find work. African Americans are disproportionately represented in the number of people in jail or on probation.

Pamela Alexander, a Hennepin County judge for 25 years, now directs the Minneapolis-based study group Council on Crime and Justice.

Alexander said the growth in state-mandated hiring restrictions is a barrier for African Americans with a criminal record, but who get out of prison, go back to school, only to find out on completion they still can't get a job.

"These statutory barriers have become so numerous, complex and onerous — there's now over 350 — that we have now reached the sad state of affairs where young people trying to better their lives through education are not informed that their past mistakes will keep them from working in certain occupations until they have already invested their time, their money and their hopes in their dreams," Alexander said.

The local Civil Rights Commission panel also heard from local minority-owned businesses and educators.

The comments go to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which will circulate the findings to various groups and seek suggestions for remedies.