The Minneapolis-St.Paul workforce is diversifying fast, and local leaders are recognizing the change. Flickr/jadammel

Local leaders are using a "do-test-learn" approach that other cities can emulate.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are seen as the economic success stories of the Midwest, but only a subsection of their residents gets a piece of the pie. In a new essay for the Brookings Institution, Jennifer Bradley, founding director of the Center on Urban Innovation at the Aspen Institute, spotlights that part of the Twin Cities workforce being left behind: low-income people of color. Bradley also highlights initiatives that are trying to change the situation by equipping these residents with the tools to get them up to speed.

As a way of introducing the problems and potential solutions, Bradley's essay first shows how the Minneapolis-St.Paul workforce is changing. While the Twin Cities are nowhere near as diverse as cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, they're getting there. Minnesota, as a whole, is a destination to immigrants from all over the world. Bradley writes:

Minnesota is home to Mexicans, Hmong, Indians, Vietnamese, Somalis, Liberians, and Ethiopians. ... According to the State Demographic Center, the Asian, black, and Hispanic populations in the state tripled between 1990 and 2010, while the white population grew by less than 10 percent. This trend will continue: From 2010 to 2030, the number of people of color is expected to grow twice as quickly as the number of whites.

To illustrate her point, she includes two maps that show how the Hispanic population has grown from the 1990s (below, top) to 2010 (below, bottom) in the Twin Cities:

Yet, these newer (and some of the older) Twin Cities residents suffer as a result of significant disparities in employment and education. For instance, only 65 percent of working-age residents of color are employed in the Twin Cities, while almost 80 percent of white population in the same age group has jobs.

The disparity in education is similarly stark. Bradley writes that in Minneapolis, only 41 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of African Americans graduate from public schools on time—partly because they live in areas where the quality of schools is low (below). For the Twin Cities as a whole, about 78 percent of minorities over age 25 have a high school diploma, compared with 96 percent of whites.

In the Twin Cities, people of color tend to live in areas without access to good public schools. (Brookings Institution)

But the cities are taking stock of the problem. Bradley mentions some of the government and non-profit initiatives trying to bridge the gaps in education, employment, and income—hoping to prepare a more well-rounded workforce for the city.

Training and Employment

Hennepin County, the most populous county in the Twin Cities, is training then hiring entry-level workers in 20 job categories that don't require a secondary education. Its 2014 pilot training program is trying to coach local residents, many of whom have needed the county's social services in the past, to become city representatives who gauge eligibility for these services.

"In effect, the program is moving people from one side of the desk to another," Bradley writes.

Housing and Transit

In 2010, The Metropolitan Council used a portion of a grant by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create Corridors of Opportunity—a program that aims to improve low-income access to jobs, housing and city services by suggesting tweaks to the transit system. A community organization called the New American Academy is working on similar goals, but focusing its services on the East African immigrants in the southwest suburbs.

Education

The Northside Achievement Zone foundation started with the aim of eliminating disparities in education. The organization works with schools, non-profits, philanthropies, and universities to provide early childhood education, after-school programs, summer classes, and other resources for children who otherwise don't have easy access to them. Generation Next, a 2012 coalition of leaders in education, philanthropy, government, and commerce also came together to bridge the achievement gap. Former Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak was part of both these initiatives.

Together these programs give a snapshot of the multilevel, multitiered "do-test-learn" approach the Twin Cities are taking towards resolving racial workforce disparities, says Bradley. It's an approach she hopes other cities will considering emulating.

“At some point, you’ve got to move out into reflection mode," she tells CityLab. "This problem has tentacles in so many areas—workforce, transportation, education—that the way to get moving on it is to get moving.”

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