Access to Employment is a Fundamental Racial Justice Issue

A note from Urban Alliance CEO Eshauna Smith about the reality behind our work:

Dear Friends,

With an unemployment rate at recent lows not seen in half a century, Americans are arguably doing well. But that number belies a hard truth in our economy – that success for the collective whole is never the same as success for everyone. That great unemployment rate? It’s higher for Latinx Americans – and it’s doubled for black Americans.

Those troubling statistics have held true for over 60 years, according to the Brookings Institution, with no sign of that pattern changing.

Employment gaps go hand-in-hand with income inequality gaps that are just as difficult to bridge. A 2018 Opportunity Insights study found that black boys, even those who grow up in affluent families, still earn less in adulthood than their white counterparts – and those who grow up wealthy are more likely to end up poor than rich in adulthood.

That’s why at Urban Alliance we firmly believe that access to employment is a fundamental racial justice issue. Without a system that grants more equitable access to jobs, young people of color will continue to be left behind. And without the kind of skills and experiences that correlate with higher job quality later in life, from early paid work experience, to employability skills and social capital, how can students begin to get around this broken system?

At our annual staff retreat this month, we frankly examined our own implicit and explicit biases and those our students face, and discussed how to help them navigate an imperfect system while also giving them the tools to challenge and transcend that system. It’s a system that results in our students fearing at first that they will feel out of place, will have to prove their worth, and may never relate to their coworkers. Nevertheless, they persist.

I am in awe of the drive and tenacity of our interns as they not only master new skills, learn to navigate brand-new work environments, and balance academics every single day by showing up, working hard, and pushing past barriers to make each second of this opportunity count. By the end of the program year, our interns feel confident in their new surroundings, have made strong, lifelong relationships with their mentors, and are excitedly embracing their futures.

Even more encouragingly, so many of them are reaching back as they bound through that open door to take another young person with them. That desire to extend the opportunity they’ve received to those who come after them is expressed again and again by our graduating interns in presentations, conversations, and exit interviews. It gives me tremendous pride – and tremendous hope.

As our interns succeed, I truly believe that we are working to change the system from within, one young person at a time. It’s slow, yes, but it’s progress. As our interns continue to translate their individual success to collective success, they’re setting an example for us all. So as we head into the new school year, I am committing to following their lead – and I encourage everyone to follow suit. We can all play a role in helping to lift the next generation.

Creating access to meaningful employment for young people of color really does benefit us all. Study after study has shown that diversity in the workplace improves innovation, revenue, employee engagement, decision-making, and a company’s ability to compete not only in the marketplace, but also in the hiring pool.

All it takes is a job. Can you or your company help?

With gratitude,
Eshauna Smith