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Twin Cities Among Best Places to Find a Job, Depending on Who’s Looking.

February 05, 2014 By Nicole Simms, Fellow

The Twin Cities area has been prominently featured on a number of best of lists. The healthiest and the fittest; the best city park system; the best places to work and raise a family.

Adding to the accolades are two recent lists that rank both Minneapolis and St. Paul among the best U.S. cities in which to find employment: Minneapolis is eight out of 20 in Nerd Wallet’s “Best Cities for Job Seekers” list, and St. Paul is fifth out of ten in Forbes magazine’s list of “Easiest Cities for Finding a Job Right Now.”

What these accounts leave out is the caveat that Minneapolis and St. Paul are great places to find a job…if you’re white. Because the Minneapolis metropolitan area also comes first in another – far less laudable – ranking related to jobs: it has long held one of the worst records in the country when it comes to racial equity in employment.

In 2010, Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute noted that, along with Memphis, Minneapolis had the largest racial employment gap in the U.S., with blacks three times more likely than whites to be unemployed. Austin wasn’t the first to call attention to this issue – the Brookings Institution released a 2005 report that argued the area’s economic fortunes would be compromised by disproportionately low gains in education, employment, and homeownership rates among minority, low income, and inner city residents – but the placement of Minneapolis at the very top of Austin’s list served as a wake-up call on the shameful severity of the problem.

Multiple attempts to address it have since been undertaken; almost every one of these echoes the concerns of the Brookings Institution by framing racial disparities in unemployment as an economic (rather than solely moral) issue that threatens “the future viability of our state.” Minnesota’s population is only expected to increase in diversity through demographic change. While people of color constitute 40 percent of the population in Minneapolis, they make up 70 percent of those enrolled in Minneapolis public schools. The younger population is therefore significantly more diverse than the older one. As older Minnesotans retire and the younger, more diverse group comes of working age, any persisting racial disparities in unemployment will result in a shortage of workers and lower quality of life levels for a huge segment of the population.

An overview of the major endeavors to avoid this bleak prospect is instructive. In 2011, the Ramsey County Blue Ribbon Commission proposed various strategies to increase racial equity in “Everybody In: A Report to Reduce Racial Employment Disparities in the Ramsey County Metropolitan Area,” including policy, outreach, education, job training/creation, and cultural business development initiatives. Governor Dayton held the Twin Cities Economic Development Summit on March 30, 2011, out of which came a 17-page report detailing plans to address the racial unemployment gap by creating new jobs, closing the achievement gap, offering tax credits and wage subsidies to hard-to-employ Minnesotans (including ex-felons), growing small businesses, diversifying state hiring and contracts to include small businesses, and expanding workforce development and training opportunities. And the City of Minneapolis created the Employment Equity Division – a division of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights – in direct response to the Economic Policy Institute’s findings.

Minneapolis went on to become the first U.S. city to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment in August of 2012. The resolution - 2012R-456: Supporting Equity in Employment in Minneapolis and the Region – is based on the premise that institutional racism is a primary reason for the unemployment disparity between whites and blacks. It calls for better incorporation of racial equity into City policies and practices, the development of an Equity Assessment Toolkit, support and encouragement for Minnesota employers to hire, retain, and promote people of color, and collaborative efforts with public, private, and nonprofit partners to achieve racial equity. The resolution’s overarching goals are to reduce racial disparities in employment and poverty rates by 25 percent by 2016, and to increase the number of people of color hired on city-funded projects from 11 to 32 percent.

In order to outline and asses the importance of various initiatives designed to achieve these goals, the City of Minneapolis published "Results Minneapolis: Eliminating Racial Employment Disparities" in March of 2013. The report adopts a hopeful tone and in particular emphasizes the importance of youth programs in addressing the issue, but it contains a variety of statistics that illustrate the disappointing persistence of racial disparities in unemployment. Indeed, in 2012, the Minneapolis metropolitan area outranked Memphis to become the city with the highest black-white unemployment ratio in the nation, with black unemployment 3.3 times higher than white unemployment.

Yet another recent report calls the persistence of these disparities “intolerable.” The Minnesota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights put out “Unemployment Disparity in Minnesota” in December of 2013. The Committee notes that although other metropolitan areas face similar challenges related to racial equity, there are certain factors unique to the Twin Cities and Minnesota that are exacerbating the problem, including larger than average disparities in educational attainment and criminal records between whites and blacks in Minnesota, a younger than average African American population (young people are more likely to be unemployed), and limited opportunities for minorities to develop small businesses and win government contracts. In order to address the racial employment gap, equity must be sought in each of these areas.

Until it is, let’s take all the accolades with a giant grain of salt. Minneapolis may be the best place to live and find a job for some people, but for others, it’s the worst.

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