Expanding Access to Economic Opportunity for Boys and Men of Color

By Linda M. Rodríguez

Rarely does a day go by that we’re not reminded of the challenges young men of color continue to face. From nearly every major city in the U.S., there are headlines, videos and stories about expanding access to economic opportunity, particularly for populations that have historically not benefited from our nation’s wealth, such as young men of color. During recent convenings organized by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA) and other leading national organizations, strategies are being discussed to address this inequity. I’d like to share some ways that the private sector can contribute to creating greater economic opportunity for boys and men of color for generations to come.

Strengthening Our Talent Pool: Boys and Men of Color

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by about 2020, the majority of Americans under the age of 18 will be persons of color.[i] This shift in the country’s demographics requires us to rethink how we identify and cultivate talent. More than ever before, we need to prepare young men of color to join the workforce. Strategies for achieving this goal include:

  • expanding college and career readiness in low-income communities,
  • increasing access to high-quality postsecondary education, training, and work experiences, and
  • providing resources to help entrepreneurs and small businesses thrive.

By taking these approaches, businesses will benefit from building a larger, more diverse talent pipeline and contribute to economic development in low-income neighborhoods.

Focusing on Closing the Skills Gap Leads to Better Job Opportunities

Helping young men of color gain the skills they need to compete in the labor market is a powerful strategy for expanding access to opportunity and promoting economic growth. Around the world, millions of young people are unemployed or underemployed. At the same time, many employers are struggling to fill vacancies. Through our global workforce development initiative, New Skills at Work, and support for Summer Youth Employment Programs, we are helping to provide many youth with their first opportunities to work and build skills.

Supporting Multiple Pathways to Youth Career Success

High school graduation is a critical milestone in the transition to adulthood. As the economy requires a more skilled workforce, postsecondary education or training has become critical to succeeding in today’s competitive, global workforce. Yet, in many high-poverty urban areas too many young men of color are not graduating from high school or going to college. Through efforts like The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) we are providing young men of color with multiple pathways to success. TFI is a comprehensive program that provides high school students in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City—with intensive academic support, preparation for college, leadership and career development, and support for their social and emotional development, including mentorships.

Too many young people are entering the labor market without a meaningful postsecondary credential and are finding themselves stuck in low-skill, low-wage jobs, or worse—unemployed and out of school. Our $75 million New Skills for Youth initiative is designed to dramatically increase the number of young people who successfully complete career training that begins in high school and ends with postsecondary credentials aligned with well-paying, high-demand jobs.

Investing in Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners

Even as young men of color prepare themselves for success in school and beyond, many continue to lack access to vital capital. Financing is the backbone of a successful small business. Yet, even though African Americans are the fastest growing segment of small business owners, business loans to African American entrepreneurs have yet to rebound since the economic downturn in 2008.  Through JPMorgan Chase’s support of VEDC and the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund in Detroit, we are helping create loan funds that boost capital to entrepreneurs of color.

While the economic plight of boys and men of color continues, the national attention and momentum that efforts like My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is bringing to these issues may help to accelerate our progress. The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is committed to making the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating gaps in their opportunities and outcomes. Through our collective efforts, we are developing scalable solutions that will help to remove barriers and create new pathways to personal and economic success for America’s boys and young men of color.

Linda M. Rodriguez leads JP Morgan Chase’s, “The Fellowship Initiative,” a comprehensive, hands-on enrichment program that includes academic, social and emotional support to help young men of color achieve personal and professional success.

[i] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/03/04/390672196/for-u-s-children-minorities-will-be-the-majority-by-2020-census-says