The percentage of African-Americans employed by state government has remained virtually the same despite a 3-year-old law aimed at increasing the number of black workers.
Of the state’s roughly 44,500 workers in 2012, about 9,400 (or 21 percent) are African-American, according to a recent report that outlines African-American employment in the public sector.
That percentage has remained the same since 2010. That same year, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services was charged with increasing the number of African-Americans in state jobs.
Sponsored by Austin state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), the law gave the department responsibility of ensuring that state agencies take steps to hire more African-Americans. It also created the African-American Employment Plan Advisory Council to help achieve this goal.
African-American workers currently make up less than 10 percent of the workforce of 17 state agencies, including Central Management Services itself. The report shows that CMS employs 141 African-American workers out of 1,641, or about 9 percent.
In areas like Austin, where nearly 90 percent of residents are African-American, both poverty and unemployment are high, Ford said. Workers from areas like the West Side need to be made more aware of state employment opportunities, Ford insists.
“When we think about the violence in the Austin community … when you see people hanging on the corners, those are probably many of these unemployed individuals,” he said.
African-American representation has remained the same in state government, even though about 3,700 Illinois workers have been laid off since 2011. But if individual agencies are scrutinized, the disparities are clear: 29 of the state’s 48 different agencies have less than 15 percent of African-Americans on their staff as of December 2012.
Central Management Services and the advisory council had “roundtable discussions” with some state agencies with low numbers of African-American staffers, according to the report.
No discussions were held with any financial or engineering-based agencies, which were singled out in the 2012 report for their lack of representation.
When asked why financial or engineering agencies were not included in those talks, CMS spokesperson Anjali Julka said the department would eventually speak with other agencies when it can. Since this is the second year CMS is implementing Ford’s law, getting to all agencies will take time, she explained.
Julka added that all agencies are primarily working under Gov. Pat Quinn’s direction to create more jobs in general.
But according to Ford, agencies will only take steps to actively find African-American workers once they’re told to do so.
“That’s going to take a letter from me,” he said, adding that he’s working with the governor’s office to find ways to get these agencies more diversified. Ford also wants areas like Austin to receive more money to help train residents for the workforce.
A main issue, Ford said, is that people don’t know about available jobs at the state level. But if local organizations got more funding, Ford insists they could better spread the word.
“We desperately need opportunities to go to work,” he said.
But one labor expert insists that 20 percent of African-Americans with state jobs is actually a high proportion.
“Honestly, when you compare African-Americans in the government sector versus the private sector, they’re overrepresented,” explained Cedric Herring of the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
Illinois’ population is 14.8 percent African-American, according to 2010 Census data. If at least that percentage is expected to be reflected in state jobs, Herring explained that blacks are slightly overrepresented.
The real problem, according to Herring, exists in the private-sector, where there’s been a traditional lack of diversity. More private companies, he said, need to offer opportunities to African-Americans.
Lack of minorities in the workforce is not just a statewide issue but a national one, said Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, labor and employment relations professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He adds that it may be difficult to hire more minorities while the economy is still in the midst of a recovery
“Overall, unemployment is declining, but it is declining very slowly,” Cutcher-Gershenfeld said. “I think that the prospects for major change are low, but prospects for some change are there.”