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Grim study on minority employment shows where changes are necessary

The economic boom so evident in many parts of the city has yet to reach everyone, a fact confirmed by a troubling new report by the Partnership for the Public Good.

For those left behind, the Partnership’s findings come as no surprise. Higher unemployment rates and lower wages among minority workers add up to increased poverty among African-American and Hispanic workers. The disparity in Erie County is especially acute when compared to the national trend, which is also discouraging.

The Partnership study was based on census data from 2010 to 2014 and found the county job market for white workers to be much more advantageous than for blacks and Hispanics.

Consider that the unemployment rate for black and Hispanic workers during that period has been more than double the jobless rate for white workers in the county. We’re talking average unemployment numbers of 17.3 percent for black workers and 13.6 for Hispanics. The jobless rate for white workers averaged 6.4 percent.

The jobless rate is even worse for young black workers. The rate for those between the ages of 20 and 24 averaged 20.5 percent from 2011 to 2013, which was more than double the 8.2 percent jobless rate for white workers in the same age group.

Minority workers tend to fill jobs that are concentrated in the generally lower-paying portions of the service sector. Black workers earn 71 cents for every $1 earned by white workers, while Hispanic workers earn 73 cents for every $1 earned by white workers.

There are construction jobs to be filled at major projects like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and RiverBend in South Buffalo and at the many smaller rehab projects underway and planned. The rebuilding economy is creating permanent jobs in a variety of fields, with more on the horizon. There should be equal access to those new employment opportunities. Maintaining a level playing field should go without saying but, as the Partnership’s study indicates, that is not always the case.

The lag in minority hiring has prompted community groups to protest outside SolarCity and the Medical Campus. A spokesman for LPCiminelli, the SolarCity construction project’s Buffalo-based contractor, told The News that minorities have accounted for slightly more than 17 percent of the hours worked.

The Partnership study offers suggestions that range from targeted hiring practices to policies aimed at improving wages, supports and job quality.

Sam Magavern, co-director of the Partnership, points to a proposal by Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, who wants to create a Buffalo-focused employment agency. The News has written about his Hiring and Investing in Real Employment center, which would create a state-run employment clearinghouse to build a pool of potential applicants for job openings. Companies could access that database to identify city residents looking for work and learn about their experience, education and other qualifications.

If implemented, the center is one step of many that will be required to end the disparity in hiring and wages.

Creating a level playing field will take a number of steps.

Unfair hiring practices that lead to greater unemployment among minorities have no place in Buffalo. The city’s amazing rebound will not be a success until it includes all residents.