HUNDREDS of people attended a gathering on March 21 at the Los Angeles Black Worker Centre 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 policy-makers, 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 institutionalised 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.
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 Labour Leaders’ Voices: “In 2014, black women, at 13.5 per cent, were only second to black men, at 15.8 per cent, in having the highest union representation rate compared with other race or gender groups.”
With this decrease of union jobs and wages, economic restructuring, lack of affordable housing, coupled with gradual disinvestment in black neighbourhoods, the black workforce has been decimated. Many were forced to leave the community in order to find work.
The report notes that since the 1980s the black population in Los Angeles has declined by over 100,000. Yet, despite this decline, the black population in Los Angeles is still one of the largest 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 SmallwoodCuevas, UCLA labour centre project director, Black Worker Centre cofounder, and report co-author, who also chaired the gathering last week.
“[We have] to ensure that black workers thrive, not just survive,” Smallwood-Cuevas noted.
The report finds that while black workers in Los Angeles are significantly more educated than previous generations, they still experience lower wages and significantly higher unemployment rates than white workers. Even with a higher degree, more than one 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 labour centre, 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 front-line 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 who spoke about the crisis and the lack of upward job mobility.
Casto Landers, who also works with the LA Black Worker Centre, 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 stabilising black families and communities through the creation of wellpaid, quality accessible jobs.
Among other solutions to the crisis, the authors point to the need for unionisation of black workers, an expansion of hiring benchmarks that include underrepresented workers, and targeted outreach, recruitment and retention programmes 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 Centre research associate.
One effort the report and its supporters are fighting for is the California Fair Labour and Housing Enforcement Act of 2017. They see it as critical in the fight to end labour 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,” explained Robert Branch, one of the panelists, a Los Angeles union security officer, and an active Service Employees International Union member.
The organisers 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 labour discrimination in Los Angeles and beyond.”