According to a report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security
(IDES), employment for black and Hispanic males in the Prairie State is nearing
In a time when Illinois finds itself at the bottom of the list in job creation
since the recession, the IDES reports that the employment rate for
African-Americans has fallen 7.1 percent since 2007, more than any other racial
Bob Woodson is the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood
Enterprise, a non-profit inner-city development and activism organization. He
says minorities may be disproportionately harmed by a poor economy for a variety
Woodson cited heightened incarceration levels for black males compared to other
“One thing that may be keeping a large number of minorities from work is that
many of them, especially in cities like Chicago, are coming from prison and the
jobs they qualify for require occupational licensing,” Woodson said. “And
oftentimes former prisoners are restricted from obtaining those licenses.”
States and local governments should take steps to remove those restrictions and
the stigma surrounding hiring ex-cons who have a limited skill set but may excel
at certain labor jobs, he argued.
It’s an especially difficult time for black males, who find themselves employed
at a rate 10 percent lower than six years ago. The current employment rate for
black males in the Land of Lincoln is lower than at any time in state history.
As a 2013 Pew Research study points out, high black unemployment is not just an
Illinois problem, but a national one, as unemployment rates for minorities are
consistently much higher than for white people.
Fewer than half of black adults are employed in Illinois.
Hispanic Illinoisans are struggling to find work as well, with an employment
rate decline of 6.4 percent since 2008 and a decrease of more than eight percent
for Hispanic males in that same time period.
Woodson also said education plays a major role in determining if one can expect
to find employment later in life.
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“Too many minorities in major cities don’t graduate from high
school,” Woodson said. “Whether it’s fear of violence from gangs
keeping them from attending class, or a lack of parental involvement
encouraging them to do their schoolwork and graduate, far too many
black and Hispanic students slip through the cracks and aren’t
prepared for the real world when they need to find a job.”
David Cooper is an economic analyst at the Economic Policy
Institute, and says most of the disparity in minority unemployment
comes from an applicant pool that boasts fewer impressive
“Many black and Hispanic applicants don’t have degrees from the best
colleges or prestigious previous work,” Cooper said. “They may have
gone to public school and community college and employers overlook
them in favor of fancier resumes.”
Cooper also said discriminatory hiring practices can be part of the
“Employers may have biases towards those with less education or who
have spent time behind bars,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily
reveal the true character of a person. Many of these people just
need a chance at a job to prove themselves.”
Mark Denzler is the vice president and COO of the Illinois
Manufacturers Association. He says a poorly operating economy is
harmful to everyone, but especially those who really heavily on
labor and manufacturing jobs.
“The state’s harsh anti-business climate and vulnerable fiscal
situation make businesses wary of expanding, and therefore hurt
those workers who are most vulnerable to a struggling economy,”
Denzler said. “There are many workers who are willing, but need a
stronger, growing economy to have the opportunity to provide for
themselves and their families. Right now Illinois doesn’t offer
While the effects of a stagnant economy is especially damaging to
minorities, the picture isn’t rosy for many Illinoisans of all
creeds and colors, as the median household income in the state has
fallen more than $6,500 since 2007.
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