» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 126 | NO. 193 | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Urban League Report Paints Bleak Picture For Blacks

By Aisling Maki

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Tennessee nonprofit and government leaders are looking at ways to increase employment rates in the state’s most underserved communities.

The economic downturn has proven especially devastating for the African-American community, which makes up the majority of Memphis’ citizenry.

African-Americans continue to trail their white neighbors in median income, and the employment rate among African-Americans has consistently been almost twice that of whites, according to the National Urban League’s Annual State of Black America report – an annual publication now in its 35th year.

The Urban League – which works to assist African-Americans and other ethnic groups to expand economic opportunities and secure parity, power and civil rights – said the most recent employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that while the national unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent, the national rate for African-Americans is 16.79 percent, compared to 8 percent for white Americans.

The organization said Tennessee’s most recently reported unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent, and 11.4 percent for Memphis, which Census data shows is the largest poor city in the United States.

Memphis’ unemployment rate for African-Americans is estimated to be around 18 percent.

“There’s real data (about) how we’re hurting as an economy and how that affects everybody because that economy hurting black Memphians hurts every Memphian, I don’t care what our racial background is,” said Tomeka Hart, president and CEO of Memphis Urban League, which focuses mostly on education and workforce development.

Hart said she’d like to see more minority-owned businesses in the running for contracts.

“There are some issues of companies not getting selected for contracts, but there are also issues of companies not even being present as part of the bidding process,” she said.

Hart, a member of the new countywide school board, also said education is the obvious long-term key to preparing Memphians for well-paying jobs.

She said public schools should offer curriculum – particularly math, science and engineering courses – that focuses on biomedical, logistics and other industries with a solid presence in Memphis.

But the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says only 16 percent of Tennessee ninth graders go on to graduate from college.

“It’s a heavy lift because for some it’s a real deep cultural change that has to happen – understanding that really, education can work for you,” Hart said.

Hart acknowledged that college isn’t the right path for everyone, and said it’s imperative to abolish the stigma that’s become associated with technical colleges and vocational training for students interested in much-needed skilled labor. Those skills, which often translate into well-paying jobs, are something many companies look for when considering relocating to a region.

Hart said adults looking to re-enter the workforce often need re-training, which could mean GED preparations, interview practices and life skills training.

“If they’re not ready, we’re only able to find them a really low-wage job that they may or may not keep. … We have to be far more comprehensive than just saying, ‘Come in and we’ll help you find a job,’” she said.

The challenges are formidable in Tennessee. Karla Davis, commissioner of the state’s labor department, said nearly 1 million people ages 16 and older across the state lack a high school diploma or GED, and for them, unemployment hovers at more than 20 percent.

About 13 percent of Tennesseans, and 14 percent of Shelby County residents, lack basic prose literacy skills, and more than one-quarter of Tennessee adults have insufficient knowledge and skills to equip them for minimum-wage jobs, she said.

“It’s no secret that there’s a direct correlation between educational attainment and unemployment,” Davis told an audience of Memphis business and nonprofit leaders last week during the Memphis Urban League’s 2011 Empowerment Luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. “At the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, we continually strive to become better and more effective at addressing these issues with the services we provide to our customers, both the businesses who are looking for employees and those people who are looking for work.”

Davis said other states are looking at Tennessee as a leader in best practices. Her department operates 62 career centers – which she calls a “one-stop shop for career attainment” – across the state, including five in Shelby County, that provide free, comprehensive career services for job seekers and businesses looking to hire.

Her department is also deploying three high-tech, mobile job career coaches to underserved communities where transportation and access to broadband pose impediments to job seekers.

The department is partnering with other community stakeholders to serve a larger constituency that includes ex-offenders, disabled veterans and other marginalized and displaced members of the workforce.

Davis is encouraging Tennessee businesses to take advantage of programs such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows private-sector businesses tax credits for hiring individuals from nine target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.

In 2010, those tax credit applications amounted to more than $270 million in savings for Tennessee businesses.

PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047