«1. Racial and Ethnic Employment Disparities: How have recent employment and workforce conditions for racial and ethnic minority groups differed from ...»
Record of Meeting
Community Advisory Council and the Board of Governors
Friday, May 13, 2016
1. Racial and Ethnic Employment Disparities: How have recent employment and workforce
conditions for racial and ethnic minority groups differed from aggregate conditions in the
communities in which Council members operate? What strategies are affected individuals using in
response to unemployment or underemployment (e.g., starting businesses, joining the “gig” economy,
pursuing further training or education)? Are Council members aware of successful workforce investment efforts that address disparities in employment outcomes for specific populations?
Aggregate economic indicators mask the continuing marginalization of communities of color and the economic decline among lower-income white people. The impacts from failures to address labor and workforce development challenges have disproportionately affected people of color, and are now also damaging the greater population. Disaggregated data by race and geography provides essential nuance regarding social mobility and the economic realities for millions of Americans that should inform monetary and fiscal policies. Failing to address significant disparities in employment and net worth between major segments of our population, and particularly in segments that are driving our demographic growth as a nation, will result in national-level economic consequences. This is a systemic economic risk for the U.S. economy.
The U.S. unemployment rate has held stable at around 5.0 to 6.0 percent since the end of 2014.
However, systemic challenges to gainful employment have increasingly negative impacts on the ability of society’s most vulnerable to gain opportunities for social mobility. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unemployment for whites is at 4.4 percent; for African Americans, at 9.0 percent; and for Hispanics, at 5.6 percent.1 Racial and ethnic minority groups fair worse overall in terms of employment opportunities, but increasingly whites, especially in rural communities, find themselves confronting chronic employment challenges. Hence, policy approaches must recognize the breadth of support and investment needed, be cognizant of cultural realities, and squarely address access issues preventing sustained employment.
Special attention needs to be paid to populations that have a higher likelihood of unemployment, including the previously incarcerated, young adults (16- to 24-year-olds), and people with disabilities.
For instance, widespread use of criminal background checks can disadvantage citizens returning to the workforce from the start. One study demonstrates that a criminal record diminishes a returning citizen’s chances of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent.2 There are as many as 65 million Americans with criminal records in theworkforce or seeking employment opportunities.3 Similarly, unemployment in rural America has been consistently higher than in urban areas, as traditional Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey” (April 1, 2016), www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea04.htm.
Devah Pager, Bruce Western, and Naomi Sugie, “Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records,” Annals of the American Academy 623 (May 2009): 195, 199.
Michelle N. Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, 65 Million “Need Not Apply”: The Case for Reforming Criminal
manufacturing jobs have declined significantly and few alternatives have replaced them on a large scale.
Immigration policies also force millions of workers into the shadows, depressing their wages and making them vulnerable to wage theft and other predatory behavior from unscrupulous employers.
Meanwhile, rising housing costs in many markets are putting a tremendous burden on a growing number of low-wage workers, and effectively wipe out any increases in wages that they experience.
As a result of these conditions of unemployment and underemployment, some affected individuals have responded by working multiple part-time jobs.4 We are also seeing a trend of more and more business models based on 1099 contract workers rather than traditional full-time or part-time positions. The intentional misclassification of employees, as well as efforts to manipulate labor rules to gain greater margins for employers and limit protections and supports for workers, further inhibit the opportunities for the underemployed to increase social mobility and access career ladders. In addition, many employers do not provide health benefits or overtime pay to part-time workers, further contributing to these individuals’ financial insecurity. The rise of part-time employment amongst the above-mentioned groups also does not allow room for wage growth or upward mobility. Working multiple jobs and the lack of time for advancement opportunities leaves many Americans feeling “stuck.” Local collaboration between public, private, and nonprofit partners is needed to build a supply chain of dependable skilled workers and to increase employee retention rates. Local institutions must identify long-term workforce needs and develop strategies to address the challenge of uneven employment outcomes for different populations. Successful training programs invest in human capital by offering a source of income, focusing on soft and hard skills development, and providing assurance of employment at the completion of the program. These programs must also engage employer partners and recognize employer needs in order to have optimal impact. When employers understand employee needs and provide additional support, employees tend to be more focused and productive—allowing the employer to retain well-trained and dedicated employees.
Some employers and organizations already understand this and are finding ways to attract or aid vulnerable workers. For example, Sakthi Automotive, an international tier-one automotive supplier, is creating 300 jobs in Detroit with plans to recruit and hire a significant number of returning citizens, single mothers, and other at-risk populations. They also are creating a training facility on-site; offering transportation, childcare, and a discounted grocer to employees; and creating viable, advanced skills on-ramping for the local workforce. As another example, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a community-based nonprofit organization in New York City, has developed a new smartphone app called Jornalero that is designed to strengthen the position of vulnerable workers who are often victims of wage theft. The app allows workers to rate employers, track unsafe working conditions, and document wage withholding and provides assistance for workers to file legal complaints.
While it is critical to recognize that race, ethnicity, and regional culture strongly correlate with unemployment and wage rates in the United States, we must also recognize that challenges and opportunities are substantively different in different communities. Our nation’s infrastructure for delivering fiscal policies aimed at strengthening the labor market should reflect this reality. The speed Nina Glinski, “More Than a Million Americans Are Working Multiple Part-Time Jobs for Full-Time Hours,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 13, 2015, www.stltoday.com/business/local/more-than-a-million-americans-are-working-multiplepart-time/article_2816e577-f735-5607-bd31-0343c7ab5ecb.html.
May 13, 2016 Record of Meeting, CAC and Board of Governors of demographic change, and particularly the growth and dispersion of Latino populations, has widened gaps in cultural and linguistic competence among municipal and nonprofit institutions that address the workforce needs and opportunities of people earning low and moderate incomes. This has made those institutions that can deliver culturally relevant services disproportionately important in addressing these challenges.
There is increasing evidence that self-employment strategies were important for many households in dealing with the economic shock of losing employment during the Great Recession. It is clear that more of the U.S. workforce will need the tools and resources necessary to be successful as selfemployed entrepreneurs. Examples of successful small business programs include the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders national small business investment initiative, which has supported over 5,500 small businesses with culturally relevant programs during the last five years, and Detroit’s Motor City Match, which provides a comprehensive suite of grants, site selection, construction, marketing, legal, and other assistance for small businesses.
Increasing wages for workers in low-wage jobs is an especially important strategy for addressing racial and ethnic disparities at the lower end of the employment scale, as well as increasing financial well-being for low-wage workers overall. The Council is encouraged by recent minimum-wage increases in California and New York, as well as in other cities and states, and by the prominence of the minimum-wage conversation in the national political dialogue. The impact of different levels of minimum-wage increase on overall job availability and wage levels should be studied further.
2. Small-Dollar Lending: Does the Council have a view of the current demand for small-dollar loans? How are consumers currently fulfilling their need for these types of loans? What drives consumers to seek these products? Are Council members aware of promising, scalable alternatives to deposit advance, overdraft, or payday loan products?
Any conversation about small-dollar lending must begin with a clear distinction between a loan and a debt trap. Extending credit is not a viable solution for a household’s financial needs if it does not have the ability to repay or if the product structure is not designed around the household’s ability to repay.
Some legitimate form of underwriting or scoring is necessary to determine the ability to repay.
Without this, we cannot consider a product a legitimate loan; rather, it is a predatory financial instrument.
There is growing evidence that volatility in household income and expenses results in cash flow challenges for households that then trigger financial crises. Even a household that, on aggregate, has enough income in a given year to cover necessary expenses may still encounter periods of cash flow challenge that trigger mounting financial penalties (late fees on household bills, punitive debt provisions, etc.). While savings are the best cushion against such volatility, the reality in our postrecession economy is that many households simply do not have the savings necessary to address these sorts of challenges. Research from Corporation for Enterprise Development indicates that 44 percent of households are liquid asset poor—meaning they have fewer than three months of savings to cover their expenses in the event of a job loss or other financial shock.
May 13, 2016 Record of Meeting, CAC and Board of Governors The demand for alternative products is growing. The Center for Financial Services Innovation estimated that in 2015 there would be $192.1 billion in subprime auto lending, $46.2 billion in payday lending, $31.3 billion in overdraft lending, $26.4 billion in subprime credit card lending, $16.2 billion in installment lending, $15.9 billion in pawn shop lending, and $8.4 billion in “rent to own” lending.5 Many businesses and nonprofits are seeking to address that demand, and recent years have seen significant innovation around the world to provide novel solutions or delivery methods. According to a report by Autonomous Research, an independent firm focused on financial services, small-dollar lending provided by digital lenders was estimated at $37 billion in loans globally last year.6 By 2020, it estimated that digital lenders would collectively triple lending volume to roughly $100 billion in loans globally, or roughly 10 percent of the total market for small business and consumer loans. Banks “left the door wide open” to upstarts by cutting back on lending after the crisis, the analysts said. The report also noted that there are more than 2,000 firms globally now competing in digital lending, with “low barriers” for even more new firms to enter.
Even with significant innovation and growth in online small-dollar lending, low- and moderateincome (LMI) individuals with little or no credit history continue to have limited options. Most mainstream financial institutions either aren’t located in communities serving these borrowers or haven’t figured out how to evaluate the risk profile (i.e., likelihood of repayment) of someone who lacks a credit score—much less how to make serving such a population profitable enough to warrant the effort.
Those with limited or no credit are generally forced to seek alternative financial products that are often characterized by high interest rates, unrealistic payment terms, prepayment penalties, and unscrupulous collection practices. The scale and prevalence of those predatory products creates a significant and disproportionate risk of harm to LMI communities that must be addressed. Some corporations are beginning to take action to limit harm to consumers. Google, for example, recently announced bans on all payday loan ads. The bans will apply to ads for loans for which repayment is due within 60 days and also to ads for loans that carry annual percentage rates of 36 percent or higher.
In addition, efforts in various states and at the federal level by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are focused on examining the use of payday loans and similar products; those efforts seek to establish rules ensuring safe access and are urgently needed.
The focus on payday loans needs to extend to subprime auto lending. The potential systemic risk related to subprime auto lending is very concerning. With over $200 billion outstanding and rising delinquency rates, the impact on LMI communities would be significantly negative.
Rob Levy and Nick Bianchi, “Know Your Borrower—The Four Need Cases of Small-Dollar Credit Consumers” (Chicago: Center for Financial Services Innovation, December 2013), www.cfsinnovation.com/Document-Library/KnowYour-Borrower-The-Four-Need-Cases-of-Smal-(1).
Autonomous Research, “Digital Lending: The 100 Billion Dollar Question,” January 2016, https://autonomous.app.box.com/s/zsemdkbykegjndrgnxjvzvllv5meq0zp.