Cook County construction wages are the highest among 25 major metropolitan areas, but minorities and women aren’t sharing equally in the wealth, a recent study shows.
Only 37 percent of county construction workers are minority and only 2 percent are women, according to the Transportation Equity Network report conducted by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri.
“There is just quite a bit of discrimination in the construction industry,” said Laura Barrett at a Chicago press conference a week ago Tuesday. Barrett is the national policy director of the Gamaliel Foundation, a faith-based social policy organization. “In the top 25 metro areas in the U.S., African-Americans and women are underrepresented in the construction field. They have been left behind and left out of this construction boom.”
White non-Hispanics represent 60 percent of the Cook County workforce, but they make up 63 percent of construction workers, the study shows. In contrast, blacks are 15 percent of the workforce but comprise only 7 percent of construction workers.
Hispanics fare much better in the local construction industry. They represent 18 percent of the total workforce, but make up 29 percent of all construction workers. The study says, however, that Hispanic men “tend to have construction jobs which are less well-paid, less unionized, less skilled and often more dangerous.”
Construction wages in Cook County average $27.70 hourly, the highest of the metro areas researched. The study shows the county’s living wage, the amount an employee needs to meet basic needs, is $16.37 an hour.
“There’s an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that women and minorities receive a fair chance at this opportunity to earn a decent wage,” Barrett said in a statement announcing the release of the report. “Transportation projects are largely built with public dollars, offering us the ability to ensure that these jobs have strong wages.”
Barrett’s coalition wants the federal government to increase spending on transportation projects and earmark a portion of the funds for minority job training in construction trades.
“The [jobs training] program will allow men, women, African Americans, Latinos and poor people to earn an income that will let them support their family and live in our society with dignity,” said the Rev. David Bigsby of Gamaliel of Metro Chicago.