Employment - Key to Independence


Unemployment -The Immediate Problem

The most serious immediate problem that faces the Negro in our community is employment - securing an d holding a job that provides him an opportunity for livelihood, a chance to earn the means to support himself and his family, a dignity, and a reason to feel that he is a member of our community in a true and a very real sense. Unemployment and the consequent idleness are at the root of many of 'the problems we discuss in this report. Many witnesses have described to us, dramatically and we believe honestly, the overwhelming hopelessness that comes when a man's efforts to find a job come to naught. Inevitably, there is despair and a deep resentment of a society which he feels has turned its back upon him. Welfare does not change this. It provides the necessities of life, but adds nothing to a man's stature, nor relieves the frustrations that grow. -In short, the price for public assistance is loss of human dignity.

The welfare program that provides for his children is administered so that it injures his position as the head of his household, because aid is supplied with less restraint to a family headed by a woman, married or unmarried. Thus, the unemployed male often finds it to his family's advantage to drift away and leave the family to fend for itself. Once he goes, the family unit is broken and is seldom restored. Changes in welfare administration designed to hold together rather than break apart the family have not been wholly successful.

From unemployment, other problems develop. In a discouraged frame of mind, the unemployed is driven toward anti-social behavior. Even if he remains at home, he neither serves as a worthy example to his children nor does he actively motivate them to go to school and study. Thus, a chain reaction takes place. The despair and disillusionment of the unemployed parent is passed down to the children. The example of failure is vividly present and the parent's frustrations and habits become the children's. ("Go to school for what?" one youngster said to us.)

There is no immediate total solution to this problem, but it is our opinion that far more can be done than is now being done by government, by the private business sector, by organized labor, and by the Negro community, individually and jointly, to find jobs in the short range and in the long range to train Negroes so that a high proportion of them will not remain out of work.

Government job efforts. Government authorities have recognized the problem and have moved to solve it. City, county, state and feder4l governments have helped to siphon off some of the distress by hiring high proportions of Negroes. For example, 25% of all new Los Angeles county employees in 1964 were Negro.

Other government programs have been initiated and more have been proposed. These are designed to provide immediate full time and part time employment of the qualified plus training for the unqualified. As examples, under the War on Poverty Program, the Job Corps has provided a full-time work-training program for 363 youths. The Neighborhood Youth Corps has provided part time work for over 1500 youths from the south central area. Also, the Neighborhood Adult Participation Project has constructively employed over 400 in Los Angeles and this number is scheduled to double in the near future.

More recently, and perhaps belatedly, the State Department of Employment, using funds provided by the U. S. Department of Labor, has opened Youth Opportunity Centers to counsel youths in disadvantaged areas and assist them in finding employment. Also, the State Employment Service has recently opened an office in Watts to provide more convenient job placement service to nearby residents.

A disproportionate number of Negroes are presently being rejected for military service because of their inability to meet the relatively high standards insisted upon by the armed services. This raises the question of a reappraisal of recruitment and selective service standards to determine whether they are unnecessarily restrictive. Can they be revised to enable the military service to make a larger contribution to relieving the plight of the Negro without jeopardizing its standards of efficiency?

The Government employment programs are commendable and each in its way has helped to alleviate the problem but they are far from adequate. The critical problem persists.

Advanced billing with respect to federal programs has created a false impression that more job opportunities would be available than actually have developed. The endless bickering between city, state and federal government officials over the administration of the authorized programs - most particularly the Poverty Program - has disappointed many. Yet serious as has been this controversy, we doubt the delay caused by the argument has been of major consequence, except for its psychological effects. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly, the claimants on the limited available dollar are countless, and since no priority system exists, long periods of time are necessarily consumed in evaluating programs at the local, state and Washington level before funds are provided. One advocate of a training program told us that when he presented his program to the local antipoverty office, he found that his project was number 158 in line and consideration could not be expected for about seven months. All of this is understandable; projects are numerous and hope for support is great, but nevertheless, reasonable supervision of the federal purse requires time.

The magnitude of the unemployment problem among Negroes in Los Angeles is difficult to assess., but a reasonable approximation is possible. The total number of unemployed in the county is about 160,000. It is clear that unemployment in the Negro community is two to three times that in the white community; from all indications, there are some 25,000 unemployed Negroes in the central section of Los Angeles County and probably an equal number of unemployed Mexican-Americans.

After Studying current governmental employment programs, as well as a number of those proposed for the future, we conclude that the serious unemployment problem of the disadvantaged groups will not soon, or perhaps ever, be alleviated by all of them put together. Other more imaginative and more dynamic plans must be developed and must go forward. This means all private employers must make a more constructive effort to give the qualified Negro an equal opportunity for a job he is able to fill, and they and organized labor must make a massive effort to raise the qualifications of the unqualified through sizable training programs.

A California Proposal. Failure of these Programs to provide enough jobs led Governor Brown to order a survey of the state to determine how many useful jobs could be created. His survey found many in such fields as law enforcement, education, public health, and conservation. Thus, he advocated a national program estimated to cost the federal government 2.5 billion dollars annually ($250,000,000 for California) which would provide some 50,000 jobs within our state and a proportionate number of jobs elsewhere throughout the nation. An equal amount of money would be needed each year the program continues. Obviously such a program is bound to encounter tough sledding in Washington, especially as the Vietnam costs escalate, and one can readily imagine that months, if not a year or two, might pass before approval would be given and money made available, if it ever is. Since we are somewhat skeptical about the feasibility of this program (especially as to the capacity of the unemployed in the disadvantaged areas to fulfill the jobs specified), we feel that it should be tested on a pilot basis before any massive program is launched. In any event, because there will inevitably be a delay in commencing such a program, we are persuaded that other steps must be taken now.

Training programs. Existing training programs are many. They are authorized and funded by both the federal and state governments and are administered by several separate agencies - the Department of Labor, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Office of Economic Opportunity. The main source of financing for vocational training is the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 (MDTA), which has provided funds for vocational training, both institutional and on the job. Programs under this act have established high entrance requirements and are primarily conducted in the classroom. Thus, training under the act skims the cream of the unemployed, and unfortunately it seldom includes the most disadvantaged. Programs funded wholly or in part by MDTA include: The Youth Training and Employment Projects, supervised by the Economic and Youth Opportunities Agency (a product of the War on Poverty); institutional vocational training administered by the State Department of Employment; On-the-Job Training administered by the Division of Apprenticeship Standards; and numerous other public and private programs to which grants have been made. A distinct type of training is the apprenticeship training which is offered throughout the State of California under the jurisdiction of the Division of Apprenticeship Standards. In addition, state and federal legislation has empowered the Department of Social Welfare and the Bureau of Public Assistance to conduct vocational training for potential employables on the relief rolls.

All of these programs are worthwhile and, if properly administered, contribute constructively to a partial solution to the unemployment problem. But the very diversity of approaches refl6cted in this listing of programs points up the importance of coordination. Although many different types of unemployed are being reached, the several programs are not visible, and all of the needy are not as well informed as they should be concerning their purpose and existence. This fault, we believe, could be remedied by establishment of permanent and convenient local centers where many of the programs will be located and the unemployed can go for desired and necessary training. We find that, largely because of dispersal, the !programs now in existence are not being used to do the most good for the most distressed.

In most programs, two essential elements seem to be missing. The first is "attitudinal training" to help the candidate develop the necessary motivation, certain basic principles of conduct, and essential communication skills, all of which are necessary for success in the training course and for the employment to follow. The second is counseling, a service necessary if use is to be made of the particular skills, interest and attitudes of the candidate. These deficiencies appear to occur principally for budgetary reasons.

Finally, there is an apparent lack of coordination between many of the training programs and the job opportunities. All too often a youth in the south central area goes through training, acquires the necessary skill to fill a job only to find that no job awaits him. The results are disastrous. ("Train for what?" he says to his friends.)

A contributing factor to this situation is the attitude of some labor unions. Some of them contend training programs should not be initiated or conducted in areas where apprenticeship programs exist or where, in their view, there is an adequate supply of union members. This we believe is an unnecessary and self-serving restriction which, in time, will harm the national interest. The unavailability of skilled and semi-skilled workers, already in short supply, might readily retard the expansion of our economy. The President's Manpower Report both for 1964 and 1965 demonstrates an urgent need for skilled and semiskilled workers for the rest of this decade. This need should generate additional training programs in occupational areas where restrictions now bar the way.

Private efforts. We commend the work of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce through its Rehabilitation Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. H. C. McClellan. This committee organized 100 employers and, through their efforts, over 1,200 Negroes have been employed by private industry in recent months. It is the hope of our Commission that all of the 1,000 or more major employers in the metropolitan area will join this cooperative effort. We urge that a permanent organization, properly staffed and financed by the Chamber of Commerce, be established for this purpose. The committee, as well as several major employers, should continue to operate, in conjunction with the State Employment Service in the south central area and the committee of Negro businessmen, and should establish joint counseling and employment functions, so that those who seek jobs can make application with a minimum of inconvenience and expense.

A proposal for additional action. The great majority of the unemployed in the south central Los Angeles area are unemployable because they lack skill and training. To meet that pressing need, a major job training and placement program should be initiated in the area. This program should be large and should be concentrated in an area which is predominantly Negro.

To be successful, this program must be organized by the Negroes themselves. It must be their program. An organization created by Negro leadership can best encourage the unemployed, most particularly the young men and women who may lack both education and motivation, to come forward and train for the opportunities that will be opened up to them. The initiation of the program by the Negroes themselves should insure that it is well received.

Private employers and unions should support such a move by supplying the necessary equipment, counseling service and in some instances, instructors. Courses should be directed toward job availability and the employers should take upon their shoulders the responsibility of providing jobs to the graduates. Funds will be needed for physical facilities and for operations, and these can be provided under existing legislation such as the Economic Opportunity Act and Manpower Development and Training Act. A good example of such a program is the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), which has been in successful operation in Philadelphia for some time.

Compensation should not be necessary for those trainees who are receiving welfare support. If, on the other hand, the trainee receives no welfare and has no means for his livelihood, then a minimum compensation would be essential during the training program.

Through such a program, we believe that this community, which employs three million men and women, can make a real dent in the unemployment problem. Furthermore, we feel that industry, which faces a problem of scarcity of skilled and semi-skilled workers in certain areas, would be inestimably benefited by such a program. We do not dismiss the importance of the current programs which we have discussed - those providing immediate employment or those providing training for future employment. What is suggested here is vitally necessary and will both complement and enlarge upon existing programs.

The short range program for hiring the qualified unemployed, and the longer range program for training others for later employment, is dependent for its success on the motivation of the Negro and the ability of the Negro to compete with all other applicants for the available jobs. The cooperation we urge between industry, labor unions and members of the Negro community, necessary for the accomplishment of these programs, will be futile unless the individual, when trained, can stand up in our competitive society.

An End to Discrimination

It is the Commission's opinion that both willful and unwitting discrimination in employment have existed and continue to exist within our community. There is an opinion among many employers that the lack of skill and motivation on the part of many Negroes makes them undependable employees, and thus preference is given to those of other ethnic backgrounds. In addition, in many labor unions, past practices, which are extremely difficult to modify or reverse, result in discrimination against the Negroes, especially in the building trade unions and in many apprenticeship programs. Fortunately, in many instances the attitudes on the part of both the employer and labor union leaders have changed in recent years and months, and this has appreciably reduced discrimination against the minorities. Nevertheless, a greater and more conscientious effort on the part of business and labor is essential if the problem of discrimination is to be solved.

To that end, we advocate legislation to empower the California Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to initiate a program under which all employers of more than 250 workers will be required to file reports, at least annually, listing their total employment and the percentage of Negroes, Mexican-Americans, and other identifiable minority groups by occupational category. Likewise, all labor unions should file reports giving comparable information with respect to their total membership within the state. Such a procedure will afford an accurate insight into the progress which is being made by employers and labor unions in the elimination of discrimination.

No law forbids the employer or labor union from maintaining records of the ethnic background of their work force or membership. Some employers have complained that they do not keep such records because they fear the information will, in some way, be used against them. The FEPC must make a special effort to dispel the fear held by some employers that it would attempt to force the employment of specified percentages of minority workers irrespective of qualifications. Since the employer lives in a competitive environment, the FEPC and its administrators must hold to the principle of equality in opportunity based upon the ability of the individual rather than merely on numbers of minority workers employed.

In making this recommendation, we believe that if the maximum degree of cooperation from employers and labor unions is to be achieved, FEPC and other agencies dealing with discriminatory employment practices must continue to rely heavily on persuasion and education in the affirmative action programs. These are the techniques that have been most successful in the past.

Arrest records. Evidence gathered by the Commission's staff indicates that a job applicant with an arrest record faces an additional burden in finding employment. While security considerations sometimes preclude hiring an applicant with an arrest record, blanket rejection of such persons without regard for the nature of the arrest or I whether there has been a conviction should be discouraged. We urge employers to re-assess job qualifications with a view to considering whether it is feasible to increase employment opportunities for persons with arrest records.

In light of the foregoing considerations, we recommend:

1. There should immediately be developed in the affected area a job training and placement center through the combined efforts of Negroes, employers, labor unions, and government.
2. Federal and state governments should seek to insure, through the development of new facilities and additional means of communication, that maximum advantage is taken of government and private training programs and employment opportunities in our disadvantaged communities.
3. Legislation should be enacted requiring employers with more than 250 employees and all labor unions to report annually to the State Fair Employment Practices Commission the racial composition of their work force and membership.


Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?

Continue to Education - Our Fundamental Resource

Return to the Table of Contents