LOS ANGELES – Hundreds of people attended a March 21 gathering at the Los Angeles Black Worker Center to celebrate the release of a new report titled “Ready to Work: Uprooting Inequity”. Widening inequality, rising housing costs, and a lack of economic opportunities have led to a Black jobs crisis in the city, according to the report. The report proposes solutions for policymakers, advocates, and community activists to address this crisis of unemployment among Black workers.
This crisis for Black workers, the report says, is the direct result of regressive economic policies and institutionalized racism. Nationwide, manufacturing industries that employed Black workers have moved their operations offshore, which has depleted the number of stable union jobs; the jobs that remain have declined in quality. As reported previously by People’s World, African-Americans have historically been the most pro-union segment of the workforce, and the demographic most likely to be union members. As former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards wrote in her foreword to the 2015 report “And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices: “In 2014, Black women, at 13.5 percent, were only second to Black men, at 15.8 percent, in having the highest union representation rate compared with other race or gender groups.”
Disinvestment led to crisis
With this decrease of union jobs and wages, economic restructuring, lack of affordable housing, coupled with gradual disinvestment in Black neighborhoods, the Black workforce has been decimated. Many were forced to leave the community in order to find work. The report notes that since the 1980’s the Black population in Los Angeles has declined by over 100,000 residents. Yet, despite this decline, the Black population in Los Angeles is still one of the largest Black communities in both the state and the nation.
“Intentional local and state strategies focused on the protection and defense of vulnerable Black workers is needed,” explained Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, UCLA Labor Center Project Director, Black Worker Center co-founder, and report co-author, who also chaired the gathering on Tuesday evening. “[We have] to ensure that Black workers thrive, not just survive,” Smallwood-Cuevas noted during the meeting.
The report finds that while Black workers in Los Angeles are significantly more educated than previous generations were, they still experience lower wages and significantly higher unemployment rates than white workers. Even with a higher degree, more than 1 in 10 Black workers is unemployed. “Black workers are still earning only three-quarters of what white workers earn,” explained Saba Waheed, Research Director at the UCLA Labor Center, who presented some of the findings of the report at the event. “And when it comes to job positions, over a third of Black workers are employed in lower paying, precarious frontline positions. On the other hand, almost every industry that employs Black workers promotes them less compared to white workers.”
The event held a panel of workers and volunteers that spoke to the crisis and the lack of upward job mobility. Casto Landers, who also works with the LA Black Worker Center, spoke of his experience of years of being on a job and not receiving a promotion. “I’ve trained plenty of [white] supervisors and was always told I was not qualified to be a supervisor myself,” Landers said.
The report makes the connection to health and quality of life that is affected by poverty and unemployment for the Black community. “Black workers experience a myriad of negative health outcomes due to racial discrimination in employment. People who live in communities with high unemployment, pronounced poverty, and a generally low socioeconomic status are more likely to experience mental distress, crime, child maltreatment, childhood obesity, and higher levels of biological wear and tear from chronic stress,” the study asserts.
The authors of the study call for stabilizing Black families and communities through the creation of well paying, quality accessible jobs. Among other solutions to the crisis, the authors point to the need for unionization of Black workers, an expansion of hiring benchmarks that include underrepresented workers, and targeted outreach, recruitment, and retention programs for Black workers. “The issue is not that there are no jobs, or that Black workers aren’t qualified,” said Tamara Haywood, LA Black Worker Center Research Associate.
Fair labor and housing policy
One effort the report and its supporters are fighting for is the California Fair Labor and Housing Enforcement Act of 2017. They see it as critical in the fight to end labor discrimination in Los Angeles. “This bill will prepare California to deal with discrimination claims on the job as the Trump administration looks to weaken worker protections and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” explained Robert Branch, one of Tuesday night’s panelists, a Los Angeles union security officer, and an active SEIU member.
The organizers of the campaign are urging supporters to spread the message far and wide on social media with the hashtag #HealBlackFutures, which aims to shed a light on the need for liveable wages in order to ensure prosperity in Black communities in Southern California and across the nation.
“Raising the floor for Black workers will raise the floor for all workers and create a healthy, vibrant economy for Los Angeles. We saw that with the Civil Rights movement and we can see it again today,” Smallwood-Cuevas said. “We hope the report findings are reviewed widely by community and state leaders to support grassroots efforts to end labor discrimination in Los Angeles and beyond.”
The full report can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/uprootinginequityLA