A new study shows Minneapolis-St. Paul leading the nation in a category no one is celebrating: of 19 major metropolitan areas, the Twin Cities metro area has the widest gap in unemployment rate between blacks and whites.
During 2011, the jobless rate for African Americans in the Twin Cities averaged nearly 18 percent, more than three-times that of white residents. That's by far the biggest disparity of all the metropolitan areas covered in a study from the Economic Policy Institute.
It's not the first time the Twin Cities have received this dubious distinction. The region topped this list two years ago, as well. Last year, Minneapolis-St. Paul came in second — because the report accidentally included Milwaukee, which isn't big enough to provide reliable data.
Statistical flukes aside, researcher Algernon Austin said Minneapolis-St. Paul are not just leaders when it comes to the employment gap. They're an outlier.
"When you just look at the national data for blacks and whites, the black unemployment rate tends to be between two and two-and-a-half times the white rate," Austin said. "In the Minneapolis area, it's typically over three-times the white rate."
Austin said one reason the employment gap is so wide here, is the Twin Cities also have a larger than normal gap when it comes to education.
"The whites are sort of above average for whites. The blacks are doing somewhat below average for blacks," Austin said. "And lower education attainment, higher unemployment rate. So you see this huge disparity.
"Increasingly our demographics are looking very different; a different kind of worker, communities of color where we have folks that are achieving at a lower level and among the worst disparities in the country."
"We're on top in a number of disparities categories: health statistics, income disparities, poverty."
It's critical for the Twin Cities to get off the top of those lists, said Deputy Mayor Paul Williams, who is the point man on these issues for the city of St. Paul.
"Increasingly our demographics are looking very different; a different kind of worker, communities of color where we have folks that are achieving at a lower level and among the worst disparities in the country," Williams said. "How's that setting you up for your future workforce?"
Last year St. Paul and Ramsey County put together a Blue Ribbon Commission to devise a region-wide strategy to address the problem. Governor Mark Dayton convened a summit on the issue.
The city of Minneapolis has numerous programs to connect minority residents with jobs and minority students with internships, all in an effort to reduce the employment gap. But that's going to take time, said Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel.
"You don't fix a problem that is that significant in a year. You just don't, and it would be unrealistic to think that you can," Korbel said. "But what we have been doing is being very deliberate about attacking the problem and making some incremental progress."
There is one small sign of progress in the Economic Policy Institute's report. The unemployment rate among black residents actually fell by more than 3 percentage points between 2010 and 2011. That was the second steepest drop of any of the cities on the list.
But that's not all good news. The unemployment rate doesn't just fall when people find jobs. It also falls when they become discouraged and stop looking for work.