A major finding in the Elevate Akron process was a determination that Akron’s black population has been excluded from economic opportunity.
Researchers said their data show Akron ranked among the 10 worst metro areas in the nation from 2005 to 2015 in the black unemployment rate and among the five worst metro areas for a decline in black earnings.
“Our black population is just completely cut out from growth and opportunity in this current economy. And I use those words intentionally. They are excluded from economic opportunity,” said James Hardy, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan’s chief of staff. “This is not about not participating. They’re excluded. This is more than just a moral imperative.”
Excluding black residents in local economic growth hurts the whole economy, he said.
Akron’s black population makes up about 31 percent of the city’s overall population and 12 percent of Summit County’s.
Among the reasons for this problem is that over the past 25 years jobs have moved farther away from urban cores and transportation systems have failed to adapt to that change, Hardy said.
For example, it typically takes someone who lives in Akron 90 minutes one-way by bus to get to what is called the Twinsburg job hub, he said.
“Jobs moving away from people is part of this,” Hardy said.
A skills gap related to educational attainment is also a major issue with the local black population, he said.
“We have to publicly have this conversation that it’s not getting better,” he said.
The Elevate Akron report calls for a “regional inclusion strategy” to find ways to help the local African-American population improve their skills and get good-paying jobs.
Sadie Winlock, president of the Akron Urban League, was included in the discussions that went into Elevate Akron and agrees that the region won’t thrive until minorities fully participate in the economy.
“I think Akron has done a good job of being diverse,” she said. But African-Americans still need good jobs and need to have a voice in decision-making in the organizations they work for, she said.
“It’s not about position but about being in a position to influence decisions,” she said.
While people in the near past largely came to the Urban League seeking help getting a job, many now come to find ways to improve their job skills and create a career path, she said.
“Now we have people who are underemployed,” Winlock said.
Winlock said while she agreed with the finding that the local black population has been excluded from economic opportunity, she believes that black people have not been intentionally excluded. But the exclusion is there nevertheless, she said.
“Why don’t we have skills and talents?” she asked.
Answers lie in looking at what schools are doing and also in looking at what is happening inside the homes of black families and in the homes of people living in poverty, she said.
“It’s going to take a collective approach to solve the problems,” Winlock said.