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Radical action is needed in jobs crisis

  • Article by: JOEL FRANKLIN
  • November 3, 2011 - 8:57 PM

I attended Gov. Mark Dayton's jobs summit last week. It is clear that Dayton and Minnesota business leaders are very concerned about the state's job crisis.

Minnesota has a 6.9 percent unemployment rate; 205,000 Minnesotans are out of work.

Even though that's one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, the theme of the day is that the future does not look promising for unskilled workers.

Minnesota ranks 48th among the states for hiring high-school dropouts.

This may account for the 22 percent unemployment rate in the African-American community, and for the 41 percent unemployment rate for black youths ages 16 to 19.

Minnesota has a dropout rate of 62 percent for black students, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Speakers at the governor's summit stressed that good-paying jobs one could get without a high school diploma are a thing of the past. They were concerned that Minnesota overall has a 76 percent graduation rate; they said we have to get that up to 100 percent.

If the white community is nervous, then the black community needs to be terrified. The graduation rate for black students is 38 percent.

The speakers stated that we don't have an employment problem; we have a growing skills gap that has left many of the unemployed unqualified for the available jobs.

In the United States, we have a 9 percent unemployment rate, but there are 3 million jobs sitting vacant that can't be filled because people don't have the necessary skills.

In Minnesota, 42 percent of the open jobs require postsecondary schooling, and 31 percent require some form of occupational license.

According to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota businesses have about 54,000 jobs available. Thousands of these open jobs are managerial, computer and health care jobs that pay as much as $35 an hour.

The black community is in a crisis. Our children are not being trained for the jobs of the future. If we don't prepare them, they will have no future -- they will only face poverty, prison or death.

Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, told the 800 participants at the summit that business leaders can't wait for President Obama, Congress or even Gov. Dayton to point the way for economic growth and job creation.

"We cannot be searching for the savior," he said.

Likewise, the black community cannot wait for government leaders to solve our problems.

Radical problems call for radical solutions. We as a community must put pressure on the schools to actually close the achievement gap.

The schools have to ensure that our kids are prepared for and able to succeed in postsecondary schools. We do not have time for the politics of the school districts or the teachers unions.

If it takes a longer school day, then we need to do that.

If it takes a longer school year, then we need to do that.

If it takes getting rid of ineffective teachers and principals, then we need to do that.

We must do whatever it takes to properly educate our children.

In addition to the schools doing their part, the community must ensure that we instill in our young people the old traditional values of taking school seriously and staying out of trouble with the law.

It is a myth that juvenile offenders will have a clean juvenile criminal record once they turn 18.

Nowadays, even minor shoplifting offenses can follow young people for the rest of their lives, hurting their chances of getting a job or securing housing or even of being admitted into some colleges and universities.

It is up to all of us to make sure our kids are prepared.

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Joel Franklin is second vice president of the St. Paul NAACP.

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