In a national report released last week, the Urban Institute encouraged policymakers to target employment training as a means to combat the income disparities between men of color and others in the workforce.
The Urban Institute, a think tank that uses research to inform the public of social problems and possible political solutions, targeted urban areas similar to New Haven with high concentrations of poverty and racial gaps in employment. The report authors suggested that men of color tend to have lower employment rates and lower incomes because of several factors, including geographic and social isolation, and lack of community resources, especially in education. The report also proposed solutions, namely expanding career counseling, technical training and opportunities in STEM fields at the high school level.
“The report is right on the money,” said Kathleen Quinn, regional director of Connecticut Works — a government-run, free program that connects Connecticut residents to job opportunities and training. “[While] job discrimination still certainly exists in 2015, the kinds of issues that really contribute to poor or no attachment to the workplace among young poor men, particularly those of color, start in the education system, the housing situation … [and] the lack of resources in their community.”
The report’s emphasis on “opportunity youth,” or people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither employed nor in school, was particularly important, according to Mark Abraham, the executive director of DataHaven, a non-profit that collects, shares and interprets community data. According to Abraham, 11 percent of youth in low-income areas such as Dixwell, Dwight, Fair Haven, Hill, Newhallville, West River and West Rock are neither employed nor in school. That figure is only two percent in higher-income neighborhoods like Westville and East Rock. The average city rate is seven percent.
Abraham said he would like to see a mentoring system developed to stress to children the importance of education and strong work ethics.
“I’ve worked with many young poor people who don’t even think college, or even graduating from high school, is realistic” said Quinn, who added that, if the youth were to be exposed to positive role models and encouraged by their families, there may be greater success. Though she cautioned that the most successful interventions take place at early ages, she added that it is never too late.
In addition to mentorship programs aimed at youth, the report highlighted strategies to help men of color at later stages in their lives. For example, incarceration can often be an obstacle to employment, and there is a disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system.
Mark Wilson, deputy director of operations at Emerge, a local organization that helps former inmates with reentry, said approximately 95 percent of the organization’s clients is minorities.
To solve the problem, Wilson said, education, in conjunction with a mentorship program, is necessary.
“The data show that the three things that prevent these problems are: 1) a belief in a higher power, 2) a mentoring program and 3) attachment to work,” he said.
He added that there are many employers who will hire former inmates, but many of them lack the necessary skills to work beyond entry-level jobs.
In addressing the mentoring process, Quinn called upon college and high school students.
“College kids as mentors can start working one kid at a time, building relationships, showing them their work and the options that they have before them,” she said.
Despite the range of factors cited in the report, Abraham said it did not address a key factor attributing to the disparities in New Haven: transportation. He pointed out that many jobs in the greater New Haven area are located in suburbs that are inaccessible to people without cars. Nonetheless, Harp has placed improving transportation at the top of City Hall’s agenda, as evidenced by her State of the City address last year.