Stronger Houston: Bridging the unemployment gap for people of color

HOUSTON – Meka Diamond lost her job as a part-time executive assistant when the insurance company she worked for shut down one year ago at the beginning of the pandemic. She’s been looking for a steady paycheck ever since.

“I had to face the fact that I can’t go back when I want to go back,” Diamond said.

Diamond said something to fall back on. She owns her own marketing and consulting company. But being your own boss in a pandemic hasn’t been easy.

“I just had to pivot. I had to figure out how I can make my job, my company work until something else was found for me,” Diamond said.

While the economy is showing signs of recovery, the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color. Women, especially, had been hit the hardest.

In the latest national jobs report from February, the unemployment rate for black Americans rose to 9.9%, the highest among all groups that are tracked. Black and Latina women are facing the highest unemployment rate among all women with 8.9 % and 8.5% respectively. While the unemployment rate for white women is 5.2%.

“I can place a regular posting on social media and we will literally get hundreds of calls from people that are looking for work and want to go to work.,” said Carla Lane, President & CEO of Lane Staffing.

Houston-based Lane Staffing bills itself as one of the largest African American-owned employment placement companies in the Southwest. Lane is helping Diamond navigate the challenges of finding work.

“There are systems in place to make employment in my community difficult but there are also organizations fighting to bridge those gaps,” Lane said.

The systems she is referring to, which she believes are having a profound impact on the unemployment gap for women of color include education, access to money for small business owners, higher education, housing and mobility. The pandemic, Lane said, has only magnified those long-standing inequities.

“So that means we’ve got to have better education, better opportunities for people of color,” said Judson Robinson, President & CEO of The Houston Area Urban League.

The Houston Area Urban League is striving to do that in many different ways, working to change the dynamic, in part, through its Urban Technology Jobs Program by providing resources and training to help prepare job seekers for a career in the 21st Century workforce.

“Something that is going to help pay a mortgage. Something that’s going to ensure their kids go to college. We’ve got to start tracking people on these high-end, high wage jobs that are going to ensure they can provide for themselves and their families,” Robinson said.

Raising awareness about the need for those opportunities comes at a very critical time.

“41% of Black businesses within the first four months of the pandemic closed, which of course pushed people into the unemployment line,” Vicki Semander said.

Semander founded Secrets of The Sistership, a local program run by women for women. She is currently working with city leaders to help connect job seekers to resources, such as job fairs.

“Retraining folks in fields that are flourishing right now like real estate, construction, those types of things,” Semander said.

“This time has made us want more, desire more,” Diamond said.

Diamond’s desire is to become a business coach.

“I would be one of those people that would go back into the community as I am doing community service and I would want to instruct and see others go beyond what they thought they could do,” she said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other city leaders are organizing a job readiness fair to address some of the barriers to employment that many Houstonians face. The Turnaround Houston Initiative is set to take place online from Thursday, April 29th through Sunday, May 2nd.

If you’re interested in looking for work and want information about jobs, call The Houston Area Urban League at 281-220-6012.

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