The state of Minnesota awarded $10.9 million in job training grants to 42 agencies this month as part of its effort to boost wages and skill sets among people of color, immigrants and inmates and to reduce economic disparities that are among the worst in the nation.

The Minnesota Pathways to Prosperity program grants range in size from $63,000 to $450,000 and are “part of our equity goal,” said Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The grants, announced this month, are for the fiscal year 2020-2021 funding cycle. State officials said the grants are competitive and pack a punch because they deliver workforce development and training opportunities to adults in Minnesota who are experiencing barriers to employment.

State officials said the grants fund roughly half the requests received.

If successful, the programs could help reduce the wide gaps that exist between whites and nonwhites with respect to unemployment, wages, homeownership and education.

The unemployment rate for black and Hispanic Minnesotans was 6.8% and 3.2%, respectively, in August. That compared with 2.8% for white Minnesotans.

The two largest grants were awarded to International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul ($450,000) and the city of Minneapolis’ Employment and Training Division ($400,000).

The smallest grant — for $63,000 — will go to the Community Action Center of Northfield Inc., which will train people of color and people with disabilities for jobs in the health care industry. DEED officials noted that this year’s Pathways to Prosperity program attempted to allocate more funding across the state and sought to include some new service providers that serve individuals with multiple barriers to employment.

The agencies that receive the grants help job seekers learn about new careers, go to school, receive skills training and obtain industry-recognized certifications and credits that are highly sought after by Minnesota companies. The programs then connect trainees to jobs “in high-growth, high-demand industries with long-term opportunities,” DEED officials said.

To ensure successful completion of each program, Pathways grantees also will provide “wraparound services” such as access to child care, transportation or food assistance. Those services are critical and “help Minnesotans in finding and keeping jobs,” Warfa said.

Others among the 42 grantees included: the city of Duluth Workforce Development ($378,000); CLUES Latino development organization in Minneapolis ($300,000); Goodwill-Easter Seals in St. Paul ($305,847); the Hiawatha Valley Adult Education program in Red Wing for soon-to-be-released inmates ($400,000); Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Minneapolis in Golden Valley ($350,000); the Ka Joog health care training program for Somalis in Minneapolis ($350,000); Lutheran Social Service in St. Paul ($435,000); and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Onamia ($300,000).

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove has said in previous interviews that Minnesota government, corporate, educational and other private/public partnerships must work together to eradicate racial disparities for the health of state’s economy and overall growth.

Minnesota has “some of the worst income disparities between whites and people of color in the country. That is an embarrassing fact,” said Grove when he was newly tapped to head DEED in March.

Lowering minority unemployment “will be an emphasis of [the Walz] administration,” he said.