Despite efforts to increase African-American workers hired by the state, the number lags

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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 44,589 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, after the Illinois Department of Central Management Services was charged with increasing the number of African-Americans in state jobs.

The law, proposed by Austin’s state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago), gave Central Management Services (CMS) the 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 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.

“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,” Ford 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 as areas lacking enough African-American representation.

When asked why financial or engineering agencies were not included in these discussions, CMS spokeswoman 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 said.

Julka added that all agencies are primarily working under Gov. Pat Quinn’s direction to create more jobs in general.

Ford said some agencies that have not been called out on their low African-American employment numbers 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,” Ford said.

He said he’s working with the governor’s office to find the best way to get these agencies to better diversify their workforce.

Additionally, Ford said he wants to make sure that areas like Austin get more money for social programs that help train residents for the work world, like the Westside Health Authority.

He thinks a main issue is that people don’t know about job opportunities available in various state agencies. If local groups get more funding, he said they can spread the knowledge and help train more people.

“We desperately need opportunities to go to work,” Ford said.

One expert said 20 percent of African-Americans with state jobs is actually a high proportion.

“Honestly, when you compare African-Americans in the (state) government sector versus the (state) private sector, they’re overrepresented,” said Cedric Herring, expert on labor force issues and policy with the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Illinois’ population is 14.8 percent African-American, according to 2011 Census data. If at least that percentage is expected to be reflected in state jobs, Herring said African-Americans are slightly overrepresented.

Herring said the real problem exists in the private-sector. He said more private companies need to offer opportunities to African-Americans, where there’s been a traditional lack of diversity.

Some large companies are known to hire minorities all at once, right before they bid for government projects, Herring said. In this sense, he said government bodies actually help diversify the private sector workforce because they like to work with companies that employ a certain percentage of minorities or women.

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.

It may be difficult to hire more minorities while the economy is still in the midst of a recovery, said Cutcher-Gershenfeld.

“Overall, unemployment is declining, but it is declining very slowly,” Cutcher-Gershenfeld. “I think that the prospects for major change are low, but prospects for some change are there.”


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