The Missing Piece for Young Men of Color: Jobs

This week, President Obama released the names of several businesses that are stepping up to help men and boys of color succeed. Building on previous commitments to the Administration's My Brother's Keeper Initiative, many of these efforts focused on mentoring, skill building, and investing in education. These are all important programs targeted towards a population that has been too often ignored, but the word that was missing was "jobs." Skill building and mentoring are vital for young men of color to succeed, but the effort must culminate in employment.

Men and boys of color face an employment crisis. In last month's jobs numbers, unemployment among African-American men was more than twice the rate of white men. Unemployment among African-American youth ages 16-19 is over 33 percent. Unemployment in the same age group among white youth is much lower, 18.9 percent. In many places across the country, the unemployment rates are much higher. In Chicago, an astounding 92 percent of young African-American men between the ages of 16-19 are jobless. Not only do they face higher rates of unemployment, African-American and Latino men are dropping out of the labor force participation at higher rates, too. This staggering unemployment of young men of color is devastating for them, their families, and communities: it is the crux of the problem.

The businesses that have joined with the President and shown their commitment to men and boys of color can help solve this jobs crisis. Companies like AT&T and JP Morgan Chase have large workforces. In addition to providing mentoring programs, they can open up their workforces to young men of color. The combined global workforce of just AT&T and JP Morgan Chase is nearly 500,000 employees. Surely, there is room to offer more job opportunities for young men of color.

In fact, both companies are already part of the way there. JP Morgan Chase's Fellowship Initiative enrolls young men of color in a comprehensive program with academic, social, and emotional support. Adding a guaranteed paid internship or entry-level position to this fellowship opens up career paths for young men of color that are tangible and effective. Citi Foundation's $10 million commitment to ServiceWorks shows their concern for men and boys of color. ServiceWorks creates volunteer opportunities, which are important for skill-building, but these volunteer opportunities should lead directly into permanent paid employment. Skill building needs to go hand in hand with employment.

In Cleveland, the Evergreen Cooperatives show how skill building can be combined with employment. Anchor institutions harness their spending power to spur business development in six low-income neighborhoods in the city and connect low-income residents to good careers that pay family supporting wages. These opportunities also enable resident employees to build wealth through their ownership stake in the business. The Evergreen model first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to take them rather than concentrating only on workforce training.

Focusing on getting young men of color into jobs and careers is a winning strategy for everyone. The young men get connected to the world of work, their communities gain, and the economy gets a boost from higher workforce participation. Companies benefit from tapping into a broader, more diverse pool of talent and skill. With the President making historic strides in launching My Brother's Keeper and, together with Congress, passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act there is no better time than now to make a focus on jobs real throughout the country.