Whoever said Blacks Don’t Want to Work is Wrong

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Andrew Wells

The Chicago Urban League’s Workforce Development Director Andrew Wells recently issued the following statement in response to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) September 2016 jobs report:

“It comes as no surprise that the September national unemployment rate remains steady at 5%. It’s unfortunate that we cannot say the same for Blacks in Chicago as the rate continues to be more than 3 times the national average. As a professional in the workforce development field, I find myself having conversations about why this number is so high and if in fact Blacks really want to work. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In late August 2016, the Chicago Urban League hosted a recruiting event for a construction company that was hiring 100 laborers and operators for a project in Washington, D.C. The strategy was to target tradespeople who previously registered with our Workforce Development Department, which boasts a growing database of more than 7,000 Black tradespeople throughout the city of Chicago. When news of this event was posted on social media, nearly 400 anxious jobseekers showed up looking for an opportunity. There were hundreds of Blacks, young and old, lined up – ready, willing, and able to not only work but relocate 700 miles away in order to support their families.

The recent Open House Career Fair hosted by Mariano’s at Holy Angels Church on September 15th is another example. Nearly 1,000 people stood in a line that stretched four city blocks to interview for a mere 400 jobs for the new store set to open in the Bronzeville area this week.

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, a large part of the U.S. electorate surveyed described African Americans as “criminal,” “unintelligent,” “lazy” and “violent.” This stereotypical perspective gives way to the mindset that Blacks lack the drive and motivation to secure employment. Some blame dependency on public assistance, gang affiliation or opportunities to earn money illegally as reasons Blacks aren’t gainfully employed. Instead of pointing out these symptoms of poverty and assigning blame to those most affected by it, more exploration of the root causes is needed.

So today’s unemployment report is fuel for more talk about how the economy is steady and recovering, yet there is still an alarming rate of Black unemployment. Further, many who are working are underemployed and face wage disparities that prevent advancement and the improvement of their economic circumstances.

The good news is that we are not giving up at the Chicago Urban League and will continue to work each day to be a part of the solution. Our Workforce Development team provides employment counseling and job placement services to more than 1,000 job seekers each year. We recognize the pitfalls that await eager jobseekers and strive to be a resource to prepare our clients to become viable candidates who can stand against stiff competition in today’s job market.

The League is only one part of the solution. We need help from our lawmakers to address the structural and institutional discrimination that still exists. There is also plenty room at the table for all sectors, including education, government, employers, the faith community and non-profit organizations to help affect change.”

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