State job creation policies matter for Latinos

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

I recently received an email from Vicky, an NCLR supporter, who thanked me for reporting each month on how Latinos are doing in today’s economy.  She also shared that she is unemployed and has come to realize that being bilingual is not enough to help her land a job.  Vicky does not have postsecondary education has found that employers want the whole package in a worker:  adequate training, in-demand skills, and education beyond high school.

Many jobseekers like Vicky are keenly aware of what it takes to stand out in today’s job market, where the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is more than three to one.  Just over five years from now, in 2018, only 10% of jobs in the U.S. economy will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today nearly two out of five (38.4%) Latino adults—and almost half of foreign-born Latino adults (47.5%)—do not have a high school diploma.  These facts are alarming given that by 2050 one in three American workers will be Latino.

It is not clear that the legislators who Vicky and approximately 12 million Latinos helped elect in 2012 understand the needs of the Latino workforce.  According to our latest report, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, legislators in South Atlantic states have made plans to create jobs without taking stock of the barriers that the burgeoning Hispanic labor force faces.  State policymakers are paying little to no attention to the intersections of local job creation policies and current state workforce development, immigration, and transportation systems.  Necessary investments in programs like basic skills training, which help Latinos successfully compete for jobs, are often overlooked.  Priority is placed on developing and expanding tax incentives to encourage companies to create jobs and endorsing actions like anti-immigrant legislation that hinder Hispanic workers’ access to employment.  These choices are to the detriment of workers and businesses alike, thus undermining job growth initiatives.

There is a need for significant policy adjustments at the state level to ensure that jobs in the fastest-growing industries are available to Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of workers.  Given the diversity of Latino workers, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when developing strategies to meet their unique needs.  This is especially true for Latinos in the South Atlantic.  Disproportionate numbers of Hispanics in the region possess limited formal education or English proficiency and largely have inadequate access to language training.  For example, among Latinos over the age of 25 in Georgia, 44.2% have not completed high school and 70.5% have limited English proficiency.  If we look at this same population next door in Florida, we find that just 26.3% do not have a high school diploma and 57.4% speak English less than very well.  Solutions and approaches must be tailored to local needs.

Now more than ever there is a need for policymakers to ensure that Latinos have a seat at the table to inform the job creation agenda at the state level.  The needs and concerns of the Hispanic community should no longer be an afterthought.  The early warning signs uncovered in Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic call for serious policy discussions on how to ensure that jobs are within reach for a broader share of workers and their families.  It is paramount that in this time of limited resources legislators endorse customized policy solutions that benefit employers and cultivate the workforce for years to come.  These discussions can’t wait because our economy won’t work without Latinos.

Read NCLR’s latest study, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, to learn more about the barriers that Latinos face in the labor market and why job creation policies are failing to maximize the employment potential of America’s rapidly growing workforce.  For more information, please contact Alicia Criado, Policy Associate at NCLR, at acriado@nclr.org.

Drive-bys: SER’s Road Trip Job Placement Strategy

By Lorne C. Green, Manager of Healthcare Workforce Programs, Central States SER

In the Little Village community of Chicago, as well as the surrounding communities of North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, and Pilsen, drive-bys are rarely thought of as something positive.  Yet the job developers of Central States SER’s Healthcare Bridge Program have reinvented the term as they fill vacant certified nursing assistant (CNA) positions at many of the nursing homes and hospitals in Chicago and its suburbs.

Central States SER-Jobs for Progress was founded in 1970 with the goal of expanding career opportunities for the Hispanic community in Chicago.  Over the past decade the number of participants served has grown considerably, from 500 participants in 2002 to more than 10,000 in 2012.  SER’s 115 full-time employees work with a wide range of participants, from former gang-affiliated youth to senior citizens, who are looking to reenter the workforce by gaining skills for careers in health care, transportation, manufacturing, and many other fields.

Along with Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, Central States SER launched its CNA training program in 2007.  The program was started with the aim of helping low-skilled, low-income adults gain access to training that leads to viable health care careers and helping local health care employers find quality staff.

Central States SER’s Healthcare Bridge Program is the cornerstone of its programmatic work in these communities and, in partnership with Daley College, the program has helped nearly 150 individuals successfully complete a contextualized literacy and numeracy program.  Since 2007, these certifications opened the door for graduates to gain admission to a health care–focused occupational training program at one of the City Colleges of Chicago or Triton College and, ultimately, find employment at a health care facility.

While Central States SER and its partners were highly successful in training and graduating participants from the CNA program, they still had little success with job placement for some of their students.  Despite professional development workshops that included job search techniques, résumé writing, mock interviewing, and providing targeted job leads, many graduates still were not being hired.  This high number of unemployed graduates spurred Central States SER to gather labor market information, specifically from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, to check whether CNAs were still in demand.  Yet according to the data, there will be a 20.95% increase in demand for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants between 2008 and 2018. Central States SER and its partners were confounded as to why participants were not getting hired.

SER decided to perform an in-depth evaluation of their program to identify where they might have been falling short.  A thorough review of case notes revealed that participants were not being proactive about their own job search:  they skipped job club meetings, did not respond to job leads, and constantly missed job interviews and appointments with their job developers.  Moreover, participants were actually scared of entering the job market.  To combat this fear, one of SER’s job developers had an idea:  not only did she take a few participants with her directly to potential employers, but she also arranged on-site interviews for each participant.  A few days later, all but one were hired.  Thus was born the concept of the “drive-by” at Central States SER.

Key to the drive-by strategy is the identification of employers that are hiring in communities near where participants live.  Job developers then arrange for health care program participants to travel together to potential employers for interviews, which gives them the opportunity to collectively prepare, share interview techniques, and encourage each other before their arrival.

The strategy has proven itself as a best practice when dealing with the hard-to-place, the not-so-motivated, or just plain nervous participants who need a little encouragement, team support, or nudging along the way.  The results speak for themselves:  on average, two out of every three “road trippers” are hired during their first drive-by.  Ultimately, what this experience taught Central State SER and its partners was that fully examining its challenges and engaging all staff will lead to innovative, successful solutions.

Pulling the Plug on Job Training Undermines Our Global Competitiveness

By Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

Plenty of economists have warned about the negative effects that the so-called “fiscal cliff” would have on jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress fails to act before the New Year, then employment losses will total 1.6 million jobs by the end of 2013 thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment insurance, and other measures.  Automatic cuts to federal programs, from education to health care to housing, would result in another 1.3 million jobs lost.  With our recovery still in its infancy, the last thing our country can afford is to willfully increase the ranks of the unemployed.  Latinos, who still face an unemployment rate of 10%, are rightfully anxious about how Congress is approaching these weighty decisions on taxes and the federal budget.

The fate of Latino workers is not just a Latino concern—it is an American concern.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30% of the U.S. workforce will be Latino by 2050.  It is in our national interest to ensure that Latinos are able to fully participate in and contribute to our economic prosperity.

Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050
Source: Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050.

Yet the “fiscal cliff” also poses significant threats to Hispanics who are striving to reach their full potential as workers, taxpayers, and consumers.  Beyond the specter of fewer jobs, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration would also devastate our country’s public workforce development system.  Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), federal grants give states the resources to educate and train adults, young people who are no longer in school, and workers transitioning out of dying industries.  The need for intensive adult education and vocational training is especially urgent in Latino communities.  By 2018—when Latinos will represent 18% of the American workforce—only 10% of U.S. jobs will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today this is the maximum educational attainment of one-third of the Hispanic workforce.  WIA state grants currently serve 153,917 Latino adults and 38,351 Latino youth (about one-third of all youth served).  Cutting WIA funding would widen the education and skills gap that Latinos already face and threaten America’s future competitiveness in the global economy.

For more information about the stakes for Latinos in the federal budget debate, visit www.nclr.org/federalbudget.

Paving the Future of Transportation Policy: What Congress Smoothed Over, and Where the Potholes Remain

By Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic and Employment Policy Project

Like all Americans, Latino voters place jobs and the economy at the top of their list of concerns this year. The transportation sector alone directly employs more than one million Latinos. That’s why NCLR was pleased that Congress reauthorized comprehensive surface transportation policy on June 30, just hours before the current extension of transportation policy was set to expire. The legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, was signed by President Obama on July 6 and will be active until September 2014.
While the effect of the reauthorization on the economy will be positive, it will likely be a bumpy road for the next two years. Here’s why.

NCLR identified four policy priorities for Latinos in transportation reauthorization:

  • Improve job opportunities for Latinos in the transportation sector
  • Ensure authentic community involvement in local transportation planning and decision-making
  • Defend public transportation as a vital lifeline
  • Promote safety for pedestrians and bikers.

By these measures, the final legislation is bittersweet. While preserving some of the positives from the carefully-crafted Senate bill passed in bipartisan fashion in March, the law still contains “potholes” that could imperil Latinos and other communities of color.

First, the final bill includes funding for bike and pedestrian projects, but lawmakers left the decision about how to spend these funds up to the states. In other words, states and local areas could divert money from the construction of a desperately-needed pedestrian bridge to construct a new highway onramp.

A second NCLR priority, transportation enhancements, or Safe Routes to School, was cut completely in the compromise. This is disappointing, since we know that minority and low-income communities rely the most heavily on safe biking and walking routes, and account for the majority of pedestrian deaths.

Finally, NCLR is concerned that the new law could undermine public participation in the transportation planning process, which all too often excludes voices from the populations most directly affected by transportation decisions: minorities, low-income communities, and people with disabilities. Policymakers adjusted the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to speed up some aspects of transportation planning, at the risk of bypassing vulnerable communities altogether. While not as extreme as some of the environmental “steamrolling” proposals that cropped up earlier in the debate, the language in the final bill sets a negative precedent for democratic participation in local decision-making.

Two years is welcome for a sluggish economy but a blink of an eye for policymaking. NCLR is committed to monitoring implementation of transportation reauthorization and helping to pave the way for strong legislation in 2014.