Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bridge to Employment program helps close racial disparities in the workforce

Damien Perry and Teresa Jones are successful participants in the Bridges to Employment program which helps people of color transition off MFIP to employment. Studies and personal experience show that cracking the racial barrier in the Duluth workforce is more difficult than in towns in other states.

By Allegra Henderson
and Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff

In March, Teresa Jones was unemployed and receiving Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), a public benefit. She talked with her job counselor and was referred to the Bridge to Employment Program to work with a culturally specific Employment Mentor. Within a month of being in the program Teresa began working at New San Marco as a food preparation worker. Three months later, Teresa is still working and doing a great job.

“I’m thankful for finding the Afro-American program, Bridges to Employment,” said Jones. “It helped me to take the right steps seeking employment by reviewing one-on-one, helping me practice interviews, and learning how to talk on an actual interview.” Jones said that finding employment, as an African American in Duluth is hard. “Not all people are for Afro-Americans,” she said of employers’ attitudes in Duluth. “But there are some that are very good about it.”

Jones was the first participant in the Duluth Bridge to Employment Program. Damien Perry was the second participant. Perry is a single father and has lived in Duluth for 11 years. He joined Bridge to Employment in February of this year and immediately showed a strong persistence and follow through in his job search. In March he was hired at New San Marco and worked for three months as a janitor. His wage was paid by the City of Duluth Workforce Development Center with MFIP grant funding. This allowed him flexible hours and an opportunity to develop and strengthen his work ethic. He proved himself and in July he was hired on permanently. As a father of small children he prefers a night shift as a front desk clerk.

There are growing disparities between whites and Minnesotans of color, racial disparities that in some cases are among the worst in the nation.

According to a 2007 “The Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equality” published by Jermaine Toney of the Organizing Apprenticeship Project: “There is a growing racial fault line running through our state—a fault line that is undermining our future. Minnesota leads the nation in key quality-of-life indicators. Taken as a whole, we are one of the healthiest, wealthiest and best educated. At the same time, there are growing disparities between whites and Minnesotans of color, racial disparities that in some cases are among the worst in the nation.”

African Americans in Duluth averaged a household income of $18,100, according to the 2000 Census, a stark contrast to the household income of whites in Duluth at $34,600. These statistics point to the fact that many African Americans have not been promoted beyond entry-level positions. This may be happening because they are being systemically excluded from the labor pool because of stereotypes, discrimination and lack of preparation.

Bridge to Employment
Bridge to Employment is a new program that counters this dilemma by offering culturally specific mentoring from a person who understands their experiences and advocates for equal and fair hiring practices in Duluth. The program is designed to provide assistance to African Americans that are receiving public assistance for families; heads of these households are mandated to find employment and transition off of public benefits within a certain time frame. Many who obtain employment have problems with retention.

According to a recent study by Minnesota Department of Human Services, there is a 20 percent gap or difference in employment outcomes for African Americans in Minnesota as compared to other racial groups receiving MFIP.

Many counties that are experiencing this disparity of five percent or more have instituted innovative and progressive programs like Bridge to Employment, which uses “employment mentors”. Mentors can address the barriers to employment such as preparedness, childcare, transportation and culturally specific support). Bridge to Employment is a partnership with Community Action Duluth, St. Louis County, Duluth At Work, and Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Bridge to Employment is intended to locate a variety of positions for participants, and offer hiring incentives to employers such as the Welfare to Work Tax Credit, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, On the Job Training wage subsidies and other public benefits, that depending upon eligibility of participant may be available to employers.

Contact information
For more information or if you are an employer who has a job to offer a program participant, please call Allegra at 726-1665.