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In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, thousands of Americans joined hands, singing “We Shall Overcome” with the great hope of equality one day becoming a reality. Unfortunately, in Buffalo, New York, equality in employment still appears to be just a dream. A coalition of labor, community, and religious organizations commissioned the Partnership for the Public Good to produce a comprehensive study on racial employment inequality in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Across the nation, unemployment rates among African Americans and Hispanics are double those of Whites. Locally, the disparities are even worse, with an African American unemployment rate from 2010 to 2014 of 17.3% and a Hispanic rate of 13.6%, compared to a White rate of 6.4%.  Last week the coalition released the study, “Working Toward Equality: Employment and Race in Buffalo.”  Presenting the findings at the Merriweather Library here,  the coalition called on the community to join it at a March 18 summit meeting to begin implementing the solutions outlined in the report.  

Here are their findings:

Scope

•In Buffalo-Niagara, 37% of Blacks and Hispanics live below the poverty line, compared to 9% for whites.  Median incomes are $25,000 for blacks and $27,000 for Hispanics, compared to $55,000 for Whites.

•The 2010-2014 African American unemployment rate was 17.3% and the Hispanic rate 13.6%, compared to a White rate of 6.4%.

•In 2011-2013, the Erie County unemployment rate for Black workers ages 20 to 24 was 20.5%, compared to 8.2% for their White counterparts.

•People of color are concentrated in low-wage jobs such as healthcare support, personal care and service, and building and grounds maintenance, and they are dramatically underrepresented in occupations such as management, law, business, and finance.  

•In Erie County, Black workers earn 71 cents, and Hispanic workers earn 73 cents, for every dollar earned by White workers.

Causes

Employment discrimination remains prevalent; in one field experiment, employers preferred white applicants with drug felonies to people of color with no criminal record.

Few companies hold their managers accountable for improving diversity, and many employers use job criteria that do not accurately predict job performance but tend to screen out minorities.

Buffalo-Niagara is the sixth most segregated metro in the nation, which isolates people of color from job access and creates numerous employability disadvantages.

Inequalities in wealth, education, criminal justice, and other aspects of life make it harder for people of color to access quality jobs. People of color in Buffalo-Niagara have homeownership rates of less than half those of whites. Blacks represent 14% of the population, but 41% of arrests.

•Rising economic inequality has hurt people of color the most. For example, people of color have lost more from the decline in union density and the erosion of the minimum wage than whites.

The Great Recession exacerbated employment disparities, as did various austerity policies and governmental cuts made in response.

Solutions

Targeted hire policies ask companies receiving public assistance to prioritize workers from certain communities, such as zip codes with high poverty rates.

Local employers should commit to setting goals for improving their diversity and reporting out to the public on progress toward those goals.

New laws should reform the use of credit checks and criminal histories in hiring.

The spatial mismatch between people of color and jobs should be addressed with smart growth policies that incentivize business development in densely settled areas on transit lines.

Direct job creation in targeted communities: hiring disadvantaged workers to rebuild high poverty neighborhoods offers multiple benefits at a low cost.

Anti-discrimination law enforcement should be more adequately funded and augmented with“tester” programs like those used to identify housing discrimination.

Improving wages, work supports, and job quality will help people of color to advance. Minimum wage, living wage, paid family leave, paid sick leave, child care assistance, fair scheduling,and renewed rights to organize and bargain collectively will reduce racial disparities and strengthen our economy.

Coalition members include:

New York State AFL-CIO; WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO;

Buffalo Urban League; Concerned Clergy of Western New York; Baptist Ministers Conference

of Buffalo and Vicinity; NAACP Buffalo Branch; Coalition of Black Trade Unions (Buffalo

Chapter); and Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (WNY Chapter).

'The labor movement at its core has always been a social justice movement,” said New York

State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “That is why labor rights and civil rights go hand-inhand.

We were proud to support this initiative and look forward to working with our community and religious partners to ensure that those who lack a voice are heard. We must level the playing field for all men and women, no matter their race, creed or background to provide everyone with an equal and realistic opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Richard Lipsitz, Jr., president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, said, “The release of this study is an important step in building unity around the question of equal access to employment. The WNYALF, AFL-CIO is committed to this effort, and will work to see that our workforce truly reflects the diverse population of our region.”

Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League, said, “The study is timely, as we are in the midst of the Greater Buffalo Region’s greatest economic renaissance in over 40 years. To ensure our entire community participates in this Renaissance, this study compels us to do the challenging work to address and correct the economic inequalities for blacks and Hispanics in this community “

Shawn Fagan, executive committee member of the NAACP, Buffalo Branch, said, ““Let us hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away in the City of Buffalo so that all persons are given an opportunity to grow, build and truly experience the American Dream”For more information, contact Angela Blue, New York State AFL-CIO, (716) 308-0002, ablue@nysaflcio.org