In data released last week, the jobless rate for African Americans in the Twin Cities is reportedly at 24% compared to just 6% for Caucasians. While I have not yet seen figures for other communities of color, it is likely this disparity extends to them as well. This places us at the top of all regions in the US for racial disparity in unemployment figures. A rather ignominious distinction in my humble opinion! Couple this with the fact that we are at or near the top of major metropolitan areas in educational achievement gap between Caucasians and both African Americans and Hispanics.
How did we get to this point, especially since we rank number 13 among major metropolitan areas for gross domestic product? For those of us who have jobs, it may be rather easy to say this is not my problem and close our eyes to the issues. But we do so at our peril as the societal repercussions of this disparity continue to mount. Violent crime is on the rise. The murder rate has exploded again. All of this comes at a cost to everyone, not just the families and individuals involved.
Obviously the solution to this is not easy or clear. But it is time that we begin to do something to address these issues. In a state where we pride ourselves on excellent public education, how do we allow more than 50% of African American and Hispanic males to never finish high school, much less go on to higher education? Clearly this is a major contributor to the unemployment gap as low expectations of achievement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Are there institutional biases at work that keep the expectations low?
I wish I had answers to these questions, but I don’t. What I do have is a certainty that the problems will not be solved if we all think it is someone else’s problem. It is up to all of us, black, white, brown, green, red, purple, or blue to work toward closing the gaps. Our job may be big or it may be small, but until we all do our part the problems will continue and the costs will escalate.