Community members seek to shrink Columbia's unemployment disparity
COLUMBIA - Columbia's pain of unemployment is not equally shared.
According to the city manager's report, in 2009, the white unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. By 2013, that percentage decreased to 4.4 percent.
However, the black unemployment rate did not decrease in that same time period. In 2009, the black unemployment rate was 14.1 percent. By 2013, that number had increased to 15.7 percent.
Tyree Byndom is a recruiter for Job Point, a not-for-profit that provides job training for unemployed Mid-Missourians seeking work. He says these numbers are cause for concern.
"It's like an endangered species. When we have an endangered species, you don't treat them like every other species. You actually create a plan, you have awareness, you allocate resources and you actually start a process."
Reporting the number isn't enough to create change, but finding a solution to closing the gap isn't simple. For NAACP Missouri President Mary Ratliff, it's time for the city of Columbia to step up and provide job training.
"It's not always those individuals fault that they're in this situation. They came from families that didn't have the opportunity to have the money to get them to college," Ratliff said.
Ratliff thinks the city should put together a program to train people skills for hands-on jobs, such as air conditioning and heating technicians.
"We see that instead of making progress, that we are degreasing in opportunities for African Americans. It's time to take some drastic steps to correct that," Ratliff said.
However, Byndom said he sees positives in what the city is already doing.
"What the report doesn't share is that the city of Columbia is actually doing a pretty good job. Even though it's an issue, it's disparity, and there's room for progress," Byndom said.
For example, REDI (Regional Economic Development Inc.) is a public/private partnership in Boone County and Columbia that helps provide economic opportunities for the area.
Columbia City Councilmen Karl Skala said REDI is doing great work, but he wants to see an increase in city-funded vocational training for potential employees.
"We owe the tax payers some accountability," Skala said.
In 2009, a citizen's task force presented a planning initiative for postsecondary adult career and technical education and training. Skala thinks it's time to revisit the plans to create partnerships with area employers and regional economic development organizations to provide job training.
"We have lots of folks in this town that we really need to put to work and give opportunities to and vocational technical education is the key to that success story," Skala said.
Skala said there is great interest among city council members to help create jobs. He hopes continuing the conversation at city hall will take the initiative off of the shelf, and into the community.
As for Byndom, he hopes every member of the community - whether it's a business owner or someone seeking employment - will work together to close the gap.
"Columbia really has a lot of stuff going for it, so we have an opportunity to not follow anyone else and just set the example and the standard," Byndom said.