Dane Smith of Growth and
Justice, a Minnesota public policy research and advocacy group
Minnesota’s economic future depends on reducing workforce inequities for
people of color
A Civic Caucus
Minnesota’s Civic Process
Interview October 30, 2015
John Adams, Steve Anderson,
Dave Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Sallie Kemper (associate director), Bill
Rudelius, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter,
Dane Smith. By phone: Randy Johnson.
The number one public policy
priority for Minnesota is improving the quality of its workforce and
simultaneously reducing disparities for people of color, Growth &
Justice President Dane Smith says. He notes "truly embarrassing
disparities" for blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans in
employment, underemployment, higher education attainment, and
achievement, starting in the very early years.
Smith notes that the Metropolitan Council
forecasts that be 2040, 43 percent of working-age adults in the
seven-county Twin Cities area will be persons of color. He points to
a March 2015 Itasca Project statement, which stated that the
economic future of the state depends on racial equity. He says the
statement reinforces the notion of our very future depending on
workforce equity for people of color.
And the statement reported that despite
robust job growth overall in recent years, the Twin Cities area has
one of the largest employment rate gaps (13 percentage points)
between white workers and workers of color among the 25 largest
metropolitan areas, better only than Detroit and St. Louis. Ongoing
discrimination is a root cause of the achievement, income and
employment gaps, Smith says.
Drawing from work of the Growth & Justice
initiative Workforce Equity for a Competitive Economy, Smith lists
eight basic policy tools Minnesota could use to improve workforce
equity: (1) Career pathways; (2) Postsecondary remediation reform;
(3) Apprenticeships; (4) Evaluation and performance funding; (5)
Early college credits; (6) Statewide goals; (7) Cost reduction; and
(8) Full employment at livable wages.
Smith singles out specific projects around
the state that are attempting to address the issue of workforce
equity: Hennepin County's innovative efforts to fill job demand and
to diversify its workforce at the same; programs in Itasca County,
Northfield and Brooklyn Park that offer a positive environment for
students' time outside of school hours; the Northside Achievement
Zone in North Minneapolis, which works with low-income families to
ensure that their children complete postsecondary education and earn
college credentials; and workforce partnership programs in places
like Alexandria and Brainerd, which expose high school students to
workplaces offering good jobs in their communities.
Dane Smith was named
president of Growth & Justice in April 2007, after concluding a
30-year career as a journalist for the Star Tribune and the Pioneer
Press. While at those newspapers, he developed a solid
reputation reporting and writing about state, local and federal
government and politics. Tax fairness, economic inequality and the
issues surrounding government's proper role in society were among
Smith's favorite issues as a reporter and he has particular
expertise in these areas.
Smith is co-author of the book "Professor
Wellstone Goes to Washington: The Inside Story of a Grassroots U.S.
Senate Campaign." In 1989-90, Smith was the recipient of the John S.
Knight Fellowship for Professional Journalists, providing a
midcareer sabbatical and a year of study at Stanford University. He
holds a B.A. in journalism from the University of St. Thomas and an
A.A. degree from Inver Hills Community College, where he also has
served as an adjunct faculty member.
Growth & Justice is
a research and advocacy organization that develops innovative public
policy proposals based on independent research and civic engagement.
Its mission is to develop and advocate for public policy that both
makes Minnesota's economy more prosperous and fair for all
Minnesotans and is good for sustainable business growth in the long
run. In recent years, Growth & Justice has increasingly focused
attention on the widening overall inequality and racial disparities
in education and employment.
The Civic Caucus has released two recent statements on human
in September 2014,
laying out the human-capital challenges facing the state today and
in coming years and a
follow-up paper in January 2015,
offering recommendations for maintaining a high-quality workforce in
Minnesota. The Civic Caucus interviewed Dane Smith of Growth &
Justice to learn more about the organization's initiative on
The number one public policy priority for Minnesota is improving the
quality of our workforce and simultaneously reducing disparities for
people of color. Dane Smith,
president of Growth & Justice, noted what he called "truly
embarrassing disparities" for blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native
Americans in terms of employment, underemployment, higher education
attainment, and achievement, starting in the very early years.
"This focus," Smith said, "is central to
the founding mission of Growth & Justice: expanding prosperity,
improving human capital, investing in physical infrastructure and
building a society on which business depends for profits and
Smith pointed to an Itasca Project
statement in March 2015, "
The Itasca Project statement noted that
the Metropolitan Council forecasts that by 2040, 43 percent of
working-age adults in the seven-county Twin Cities area will be
persons of color. And the statement reported that despite robust job
growth overall in recent years, the Twin Cities area has one of the
largest employment rate gaps (13 percentage points) between white
workers and workers of color among the 25 largest metropolitan
areas, better only than Detroit and St. Louis.
In the 13-county Minneapolis-St. Paul
region, 78 percent of white adults aged 16-64 were working in
2009-2011, compared with 65 percent of adults of color. The gap is
even larger when looking at subgroups of adults of color. For
example, only 57 percent of U.S.-born black adults were working
during that time, a gap of 21 percentage points compared with white
The statement implores private-sector
managers and employers to accelerate diversification efforts so that
communities of color are proportionately represented at every stage
of their organizations.
An ongoing Growth & Justice initiative,
Workforce Equity for a Competitive Economy, produced
reports during 2013 and 2014: Inseparable
Imperatives, Good Jobs Wanted, Meeting in the Marketplace, Skills
Training, and Next Steps Are Crucial for Reducing
Disparities. Smith said
the reports explain the challenges in improving workforce equity and
provide examples of promising policy responses to our human capital
crisis, our workforce misalignment and employment trends, and racial
inequality in higher education and workforce outcomes.
Drawing from the reports, Smith said
Make sure economic development, workforce training and equity
goals overlap and that we move toward all three together.
Grow the economy, drive towards equity and improve job
training so the credentials and training match up with the jobs
that are in demand.
Advocate for higher pay for those jobs. "If you're willing to
work 40 hours a week, you ought to be paid a livable wage," he
As part of the initiative, Growth &
Justice will hold a summit in January made up of communities of
color, students of color, justice advocates and workforce experts
from communities of color providing input and interaction on what
the workforce engagement obstacles are.
Making higher education and training
available on a come-and-get-it basis is no longer enough. Young
people need more help and support in this increasingly complex
environment. The Career Pathways Grants, which Minnesota's
Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is
already financing, must be increased and improved.
Remediation reform: There are some creative proposals
for combining postsecondary remedial courses with credit, led by
the group Students for Education Reform.
Apprenticeships: Efforts like the Minnesota PIPELINE
Project, modeled on the German model of simultaneous employment
and training, need to be funded and expanded.
Evaluation and performance funding: MSPWin, a
collaboration of foundations seeking workforce equity and
efficiency, is urging a variety of improvements in outcome
reporting and evaluation of all the various higher education
institutions and workforce training programs. We need to encourage
those institutions that are effectively getting credentials to
kids of color.
Early college credits: Students who get postsecondary
credits in high school are much more likely to succeed and attain
a credential or degree. Proposals must advance to increase the
variety of dual-credit courses offered in high school and to
expand opportunities for all ninth- and 10th-graders, not just
gifted students in the higher grades.
Statewide goals: During the 2015 legislative session,
Minnesota joined 30 other states in setting a postsecondary
completion goal. Minnesota's goal is to attain 70 percent
completion by young adults by 2025.
Cost reduction: The price tag and debt burden for
credentials is a barrier for too many young people of color and
those from low-income families. The idea to make community
colleges free ran into some problems in the Legislature. One
hundred years ago, we decided to make education through12th grade
free. One hundred years later, it's not enough. We need to make
sure credential attainment is debt-free and, more or less,
Full employment at livable wages: We need to push
every lever and button that increases full employment at livable
wages. Dayton's proposed bonding bill last legislative session
would have created 23,000 jobs. Smith said he was impressed by the
Republican and conservative emphasis on workforce equity during
the 2015 legislative session.
At an October meeting of the Minnesota
Business Partnership, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said he regretted
that he has not been aggressive enough on the issue of workforce
equity. Dayton noted that recent reports have shown that during
a period of general economic growth in Minnesota, income for African
Americans has been declining and their unemployment numbers have
been rising. Meanwhile, unemployment for everyone else has been
Smith pointed out that three days later,
Dayton created a new, high-level Office of Career and Business
Opportunity within DEED. The Office has specific responsibility for
improving workforce equity, Smith said.
Discrimination is a root cause of the
achievement and income gaps. "I'm convinced that ongoing
discrimination has played a huge part in those gaps, both the
heritage and the residual effects of it," Smith said. "We badly
underestimate the historical importance of racism and its ongoing
impact as a nation and as a state. The way people of color are not
included in our families, our networks, our business associations
and the way we fail to reach out has a huge amount to do with the
gaps." He said the disparities we all suffer from today are rooted
in a history of oppression, slavery, separation, segregation and
Another factor leading to achievement and
income gaps is dramatic change in the economy. Smith said
globalization, technological change and the fact that higher degrees
are much more highly rewarded today than unskilled work are
inequality drivers. "Interlocked with discrimination and racial
disparities, you have a really toxic brew," he said.
The Census Bureau should continue to ask
people about their race and ethnicity.
interviewer asserted that the Census Bureau should stop identifying
people by their skin color. He said we should be looking at where
these kids grow up and focus on the families they grow up in and the
circumstances that "lead them to be inadequate in school, behavior
and their prospects for life."
Smith disagreed with the interviewer. He
said communities of color themselves would strongly disagree with
stopping the Census Bureau from identifying people by their race or
ethnicity. "They see how they're treated differently from the first
day of their lives," Smith said. "Getting rid of attention to
differences for people of color, not measuring it and taking a
colorblind approach to public policy is viewed by communities of
color as a form of racism and as preserving and institutionalizing
what actually exists. I look increasingly to leaders of communities
of color for how we ought to proceed, rather than making
philosophical and theoretical assumptions about them, without them.
A preponderance of thought leaders among people of color wants
attention brought to the differences."
There's a lot of concern in Minnesota
policymaking about attracting and growing good jobs. An
interviewer asked what we're doing on the economic development side
to increase good jobs where there are going to be opportunities for
growth in income. Smith responded that policymakers in Minnesota are
concerned about increasing those jobs. He noted that one of the
state's major initiatives currently is Destination Medical Center in
Rochester, showing that we want to be a health-care state. "It is a
sector where there's room for vertical growth, for people to find a
pathway from low-paying jobs to a job like nursing assistant," he
said. "We need to urge employers to encourage entry-level people to
have pathways to opportunities other than service jobs." He noted
that DEED, the McKnight Foundation and the Brookings Institution are
doing good work on this structural problem.
We need a holistic community approach to
helping kids succeed. An interviewer commented that the K-12
system isn't producing kids who are achieving well enough to go to
college or any type of skill-development program. He asked what
we're going to do to get the system to perform.
Smith said Growth & Justice has a separate
project focused on educational partnerships in Minnesota, such as
Generation Next, an organization that is focused on birth to career.
It's focused on driving early education and on continuous
intervention and involvement all the way through. Community
partnerships like this, led by businesses and foundations, are
growing throughout the state. Smith said we need a holistic
community approach to the problem of kids coming out of high school
Housing and transportation are inseparable
from the topic of the workforce. An interviewer asked when
people who are living in concentrations of poverty get trained for
jobs, how do they get to those jobs? And what are we doing to
assess the transportation options developed for this group of
Smith agreed that housing and
transportation are critical needs for low-income entrants to the
workforce. He noted that the University of Minnesota Center for
Transportation Studies is about to come out with a report saying the
southwest light-rail line might be more of an "equity train" for
people of color (to access good jobs in the southwestern suburbs)
than previously believed. An interviewer disagreed with that
conclusion, saying the line would merely facilitate more transfers
for people traveling to jobs.
Capitalism's drive for efficiency is
coming at the cost of equity. An interviewer commented that
unskilled people in today's society get exploited because they have
no other opportunities. He said there's a mismatch between the need
for skilled workers and the supply of unskilled workers. That'll
change if people get what they need to be equipped for work. But
many young people are growing up unprepared, he said.
"It doesn't seem like the tools we have
built over the last 100 years to address equity are up to the
challenge," Smith replied. He quoted the French economist Thomas
Pikkety, saying capitalism is doing what it does best, driving
toward relentless efficiency. "That's coming at the cost of equity,"
The plight of the black male is of
paramount importance. An interviewer referred to an Oct. 2105
article in The Atlantic,
which describes the impact of mass
incarceration of black men on the black family. Smith said leaders
of communities of color themselves are best equipped to address this
problem. He said there is an incredible disparity in arrests of
blacks vs. whites for marijuana use, even though polls show white
and black use of the drug is about the same. "The plight of the
black male is of paramount importance," he said.
Hennepin County is taking innovative steps
to fill job demand and to diversify its workforce at the same time. Smith
said Hennepin County, which he called "one of the stars," is using a
new data tool called Wanted Analytics and has identified that the
county is going to have a huge demand for people to administer human
services. The county decided that some requirements for those jobs
were probably unrealistic and unnecessary. It changed the
requirements and is trying to get more people of color into training
for those jobs. "There's wide admiration for this," Smith said. The
private sector is looking at what the county has done.
Smith summarized: "You look at a situation
where you can see workforce demand coming up. You look to where you
might get these workers. Then you do a combination of changing
unrealistically high demands for educational attainment, along with
lifting the attainment of kids who could fill the jobs if they just
had a little more."
We might have to change our notion of
school. An interviewer noted that kids spend about 10 percent of
their time over a year in school. "We expect the 10 percent to make
up for the 90 percent of the time when the kids aren't in school,"
the interviewer said. He said our notion about what a school ought
to be makes assumptions about the other 90 percent that aren't being
fulfilled. "The notion of school has to change if you want to deal
with this. Of course, we don't want to talk about boarding schools
Smith agreed with the interviewer's
premise and said we should not take anything off the table. He said
the idea of boarding schools or places that provide more time in a
healthy environment is worth considering. He mentioned a program in
Itasca County that is focused on out-of-school time. It serves kids
outside of school hours, based on the belief that if kids are not
succeeding, it's because there's nothing for them outside of school.
He singled out Northfield and Brooklyn
Park as two school districts that are participating in the community
schools movement. The concept includes an expanded school day and
the opportunity for kids to stay at school as long as they need to.
The students can get health care and other services there.
We have a closely divided electorate over
whether business ought to be unrestricted and free to do whatever it
wants or whether we should impose further obligations. Smith
argued that the debate over imposing the minimum wage and a livable
wage is moving in the right direction in Minnesota. "There is
support for the idea that there's an essential bargain in America:
If you're willing to work at a full-time job, you ought to have a
good life," he said. "Not everybody agrees with that. And it might
be that the minimum wage is not the very best tool to do that."
He mentioned the idea of wage subsidies,
which Minnesota implemented during the recession of the early 1980s,
when Gov. Rudy Perpich was in office. A business could hire someone
at a low wage and the state supplemented that wage and made sure
training was involved. The program was discontinued when the economy
Programs like the Northside Achievement
Zone (NAZ) are working. Smith said he's convinced that community
programs in Minnesota like NAZ, which has been around since 2003,
are working. He said one of the things NAZ does is instructive: When
a low-income infant enters their program, the child gets a little
T-shirt that says "College Class of 2037," or whatever year the
child would be graduating from college. "So in their very first
interface with the NAZ, it's understood that what you're working on
is postsecondary completion and college credentials," Smith said.
"Low-income kids don't see success among
their parents," he continued. "They never get a glimpse of an
interesting job and what a whole new world of work for them might
look like. We know that mentorships, apprenticeships and field trips
exposing kids to college and taking them to the workplace where
they're seeing important work and getting the idea they could do
that work are all really important."
He noted that rural workforce partnerships
are operating in places like Alexandria and Brainerd. He said the
Bridges Program in Brainerd is bringing kids for a full day or two
into "pretty impressive workplaces" in west central and north
central Minnesota, so the kids become aware of good jobs in the
He said it's important to consider the
context for programs like NAZ. The two recessions in the 2000s were
devastating for Minneapolis's Northside. And the number of kids in
free-and-reduced lunch programs in the state's public schools has
risen dramatically: from 25 percent 20 years ago to 40 percent
"Schools and institutions are flayed for
not achieving results, but consider that context," he said. "In that
context, holding test scores steady is rather heroic." He pointed
out that in the 1980s, Minnesota put 5 percent of its total income
into K-12 education. That has now dropped down to 4 percent, a 20
percent decline in effort.
"Those numbers are really important," he
said. "It's time to stop the excuses, but we must keep that context
in mind and ask why inequality seems to be so inexorable."
The most important statistic for us going
forward and for Minnesota over the next century is that in 2040, 43
percent of the Twin Cities working-age population will be persons of
color. Smith said when he came to Minnesota in 1971, the
population was 98 percent white. He predicted that the proportion of
people of color in the state in the 2020 Census will increase to 20
percent and that public schools in the state will have 30 percent to
40 percent students of color.
"We shouldn't panic," he said. "We're
going to look more like the rest of the world and that's a good
thing. And I think that's where the civic infrastructure needs to
Career Pathways is one step we can do. When
asked about one thing the state could do, Smith responded that
support is building for a proposal to greatly increase funding for
the Career Pathways program and so-called Fast-TRAC models that help
unskilled young workers get skills credentials faster.
The cultures of African immigrants and
African Americans are different. "African immigrants have a
different culture from people who've been subjected to 300 years of
slavery, segregation, and discrimination," Smith said. He noted that
there is understandable tension between African Americans and
African immigrants. "There's a feeling among African Americans that
they continue to get the short end of the stick in terms of policy,
help, and compensation and debt repayment for previous uncompensated
There remains a strong civic
infrastructure in this community. Smith said the mainstream
media continues an unhealthy pattern of giving distorted attention
to bad news, but not covering really encouraging innovative efforts
being undertaken by so many people to address the overriding equity
concern. "There remains a strong civic infrastructure in this
community," he said. "In some ways, it may be stronger than it used
to be. There are institutions, new associations, networks and
coalitions filled with energy and hope about Minnesota retaining its
Maureen Ramirez has been a key contributor
to Growth & Justice's workforce equity initiative. Smith noted
that Maureen Ramirez, policy and research director for Growth &
Justice, who was unable to attend today's Civic Caucus meeting, has
been key to the organization's initiative on workforce equity. With
Bryan Lindsley, executive director of the Minneapolis St. Paul
Regional Workforce Innovation Network (MSPWIN), she wrote
The commentary maintained that we could
add $10 billion more to Minnesota's GDP by adding an average of one
additional year of training and education to our workforce,
"particularly for jobs actually most in demand at the middle-skill
level and for communities of color that suffer here from one of the
nation's largest racial opportunity gaps." It said the objectives of
growth and equity "must be woven together to achieve shared
prosperity and economic competitiveness."
Lindsley and Ramirez recommended three
strategies: (1) Set ambitious, but realistic goals; (2) Better
evaluate what's working best in the public, private and nonprofit
sectors to foster workforce equity; and (3) Begin by investing in
emerging "career pathways" strategies.
In the commentary, they called for more to
be done to improve lagging graduation rates, especially for
traditionally underrepresented students. They noted that only 51
percent of students at Minnesota's public two-year community
colleges graduate or transfer within 150 percent of the standard
time allotted for completion. And the rates are much lower for
students of color and students from low-income households.
The commentary concluded by asserting,
"there is a growing and powerful consensus that upfront workforce
equity policy is an actual investment for long-term growth, not just
a trade-off for efficiency."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,