St. Paul jobless disparity raises alarms

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2011 - 8:36 PM

The racial divide in unemployment is the worst in the nation, and city leaders are scrambling for fixes.

St. Paul and Ramsey County officials pledged Wednesday to combat the Twin Cities' racial employment disparity, ranked the worst in the nation according to recent data.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of community leaders convened earlier this year to study the issue, released its report to the St. Paul City Council Wednesday, outlining the challenges and some possible solutions.

Council Member Lee Helgen said the council will need to work on a clear "action plan" to give concrete steps to otherwise broad recommendations.

Policy changes that foster more entrepreneurship opportunities for people of color, along with those that require government contractors to illustrate diversity in hiring, are examples of closing the gap, Helgen said at a morning news conference where the report was released.

The commission's report provides broad outlines: Raise public awareness among employers and the community, expand networking opportunities, create a "broad-based regional collaboration of employers" and invest in education and job training opportunities, among others.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for blacks in Minnesota in 2010 was 22 percent, compared to 6.4 percent for whites.

"The data is startling," Helgen said.

Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter called it a "state of emergency." Carter, Helgen, Mayor Chris Coleman and St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer called for community members, business leaders, non-profits and residents from all sectors to meet the challenge.

Helgen noted that addressing racial employment disparity also requires regional strategy.

"This is a very complex issue," Coleman said. "There isn't a silver bullet. There isn't even silver buckshot."

The commission set a timeline of five years for measuring success in reducing the racial employment disparity.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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