Hoping to reverse long-standing trends that have left New Orleans’ black population — particularly black men — at an economic disadvantage, the city unveiled an initiative Monday aimed at connecting the most needy job seekers with work opportunities.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said New Orleans, like the state and federal governments, has done a poor job in providing a full-service conduit linking those in search of jobs to those with jobs to offer. The administration is betting on Monday’s introduction of a new initiative, the Economic Opportunity Strategy, to fill that gap.
The initiative was launched in response to a report released last year by Loyola University that found more than half of working-age African-American men in New Orleans were unemployed in 2011. The study, published by the university’s Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy, tracked a decline in economic opportunity for black New Orleanians over three decades.
In 1980, according to the study, 63 percent of working-age black men had jobs, 7 percent were unemployed and 30 percent had dropped out of the workforce, a category that includes those who are in prison or who have stopped looking for work. By 2011, the combined categories of black men who were unemployed or out of the labor force had jumped to 52 percent.
“It reflects a failure of ours to be able to connect our citizens to work,” Landrieu said. “That is not an acceptable number for a lot of different reasons. First of all, it’s unjust. Secondly, it doesn’t do anything but actually pull the entire economy of the city down. And thirdly, it doesn’t give people a pathway to build generational wealth.”
Part of the problem is that local, state and federal governments do a poor job of connecting people to specific jobs, he said.
The Landrieu administration has spent six months surveying members of the target group to further identify their needs and the potential barriers to unemployment, such as lack of education or a criminal background. Landrieu said there are roughly 38,000 people in the group.
The mission is similar to the city’s JOB1 program except that it focuses on the “disadvantaged job seeker,” including, though not limited to, the 52 percent of black males identified in the Loyola study as not having jobs.
That job seeker will be able to walk into an office and receive case management, skills training and other services, such as life-skills training, all with the end goal of being hired by one of eight employers the city has partnered with in this project, officials said.
Those so-called “anchor institutions” are the Sewerage & Water Board, Ochsner Health System, LCMC Health, Louis Armstrong International Airport, the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University, the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and Xavier University.
Ashleigh Gardere, a special adviser to the mayor, has been tapped to serve as the Economic Opportunity Strategy’s executive director.
The initiative also calls for a procurement program that would connect qualified disadvantaged businesses to contracting opportunities with the eight anchor institutions.
Other details of how the initiative will operate still are being formalized. For instance, the annual operating budget for the program has not been established. Initial efforts have been privately funded, Gardere said, but the initiative eventually will operate with some public cash. It also is not yet clear how many people will work directly for the network or whether they will be city employees.