By: Schondra Aytch
This past October, New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo spoke of significant progress of the Western New York Employment Strike force. The initiative, created by Cuomo a little over a year ago, aims to connect businesses with residents from high unemployment areas for jobs. Securing over 7,000 residents with jobs in Western New York, Cuomo’s efforts are a heaven sent. The project, making advancements in Lackawanna, Buffalo and Niagara Falls have received recognition from New York State Commissioner Roberta Reardon to State Senator Tim Kennedy. Yet, the thought lingers “is this enough?”
On average, three of every ten residents in the City Of Buffalo are living in poverty, issued by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released in October. This statistic sits amongst the worst poverty rates in the nation. In certain neighborhoods in Western New York, the poverty rate is reaching almost 50 percent. The data is sorted by zip code, 14213 or most of the west side of Buffalo, is currently at a poverty rate of 46.2 percent. Western New York’s unemployment rate also sits higher than both the state and country rate at 7.2 percent, New York’s rate is 4.9 percent and U.S rate is 4.2 percent. This is frightening considering that both income growth and employment is increasing in Western New York. Even as public sector jobs project expansion, food services and healthcare assistance are growing faster. This begs the question of sustainability.
Governor Cuomo’s Strike force plan took effect in Buffalo because it set precedent in 2014. Though placed in a much larger arena, Bronx, NY, it is likely those Bronx residents received better jobs. Government jobs like waste management and transportation expanding in the Bronx area, securing residents with long term, benefit assisted occupations through Cuomo’s strategy was an impeccable triumph. On the other hand, Buffalo historically thrived off of blue-color culture and as of now it cannot perform the same.
Firstly, education is lacking. Manufacturing, which needed no higher education to perform and originally flourished throughout Western New York’s metro area has seen the most job losses from 2016 to 2017. Manufacturing, traditionally sustainable job, is being outpaced by automation. The rapidly growing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industry superseding manufacturing jobs needs of skilled, educated workers. With most Buffalo natives failing to complete higher education, they are left with low wage, private sector jobs.
Particularly, young people are at a disadvantage here. Half of the Buffalo Public School District’s students are living in poverty. The increase in single parent homes is likely contributing to this. Western New York’s poorest neighborhoods have large populations of young adults. This isn’t as surprising when we consider that well-paying, public sector jobs are saturated and most 20-somethings are still in college. The detriment creeps in when originally sustainable occupations stay stagnant.
This is distinctly why vocational schooling in Buffalo has become more available. Included in the hefty list of job projections Business Insider shared in March of last year, administrative and technical services are just under the number one job expansion of food service employment. This is possibly where Governor Cuomo might be of the most use. The strike force plan, that “when necessary, leverage relationships with local training partners in order to fill any skill gaps,” could do just this. If Cuomo would maximize his resources to provide extensive training programs to Western New Yorkers in poorer areas it could heal both the poverty and unemployment in Buffalo.
Secondly, the employment inequality is prevalent in Buffalo and must be tackled head on. Just over two years ago Buffalo was rated as the sixth most segregated city in the United States. Channel 4 WIVB reported that the Buffalo Public School District was “increasingly segregated” just last year.
With both the Blacks at 17.3 percent and Hispanics at 13.6 percent the unemployment rate more than double the amount for whites at 6.4 percent, it is imperative to regulate and install policies that prevent employment discrimination. Minorities are concentrated in low paying private sector jobs and very underrepresented in positions of management. The “Partnership for Public Good,” (PPG) a local community based organization that focuses on the betterment of Buffalo-Niagara, released a study finding employers preferred white applicants with recent drug felonies rather than black applicants with no criminal record.
Inequalities in wealth directly influence employment segregation. The PPG which recently signed on a first-source hiring policy with County Executive Mark Poloncarz that targets construction workers from poor neighborhoods for state projects, is pushing the idea that public dollars should uplift the community. Still, there is a concern that job opportunities might not reach the people it needs to. Considering that minorities are the largest group experiencing poverty in Buffalo, as mentioned earlier, young people are exceptionally suffering from it. Young adults of color have a current unemployment rate of 20.5 percent, the largest in the city of Buffalo.
As education would be a long term and refining cure for much of Buffalo’s unemployment issue, promotion must be included. Entry-level minimum wage jobs are hard to move up in. The slow recovery from the recession and erosion of unions has caused workers to lose voice in bargaining a promoted position. Also, with the baby boomer generation retiring, leaving open positions that require 20 to 30 years of experience, they have to be filled; and it just might be a gamble. Young, educated workers with only 10 years of experience in a skill might be the fresh perspective a stable company needs.
Workers presenting the appropriate capabilities and potential for a position should be considered – even if it is part-time. Governor Cuomo’s strike force plan has received criticism for his job fairs because many businesses are not “readily hiring.” While workers are given interviews, and possibly contracted, there is no assurity of job security. This is a blessing and a curse when understanding the shift in job trends. Speaking of the unemployment rate in Western New York last month, Senator Chris Jacobs mentioned that “staying in the same place and doing the same job for 30-40 years is over.” As more people hold two jobs or more, there should be a level of balance. With flexibility becoming a valued characteristic for desirable jobs, it shouldn’t lower the value of a worker’s skill. This is an easy solve in giving better wages to workers with high performing skills.
Governor Cuomo’s Employment Strikeforce has initiated a great foundation for job opportunities in Western New York. With the hope that the 7,000 jobs that have already been secured will be long term, installing new policies that incentivize both workers and employers will assist in creating a better job culture. This will also diversify, sustain and promote growth in local businesses.