Our Agenda: Jobs and Economic Opportunity

Our Agenda: Jobs and Economic Opportunities for African Americans

A recent article entitled, No Black Agenda on Election Table, struck a nerve with many readers in the African-American community, but particularly with the members of Harriet's Daughters. Not long before the column appeared, Harriet’s Daughters arranged to meet with the two gubernatorial candidates – the incumbent, Governor Pat Quinn, and Bruce Rauner, in private, off-the-record conversations.

Harriet’s Daughters is a non-profit group of professional women whose mission is to work collaboratively with peer organizations to advocate for, create and support policies that secure employment and wealth creation opportunities for African-American communities.

We believe that our mission has never been more important. Illinois has the third highest black unemployment rate in the country - more than twice the white unemployment rate. Among black males 16 to 19 years old, the unemployment rate is a shocking 92 percent. In Chicago, the poorest communities are all African American.

Attempting to get beyond the platitudes, speeches and canned responses, Harriet’s Daughters’ agenda for its meetings was straightforward and unapologetic. We wanted to know what each candidate was going to do about the wholly unacceptable HIGH unemployment rate that disproportionally plagues African Americans in this city and state.

Harriet’s Daughters does not endorse political candidates. However, we do intend to highlight and bring transparency to the disparities in employment rates for African-Americans in the city and the state, as well as inform our community and policymakers across the city and state about economic policies and programs that will address the entrenched inequities that keep African Americans outside of the economic mainstream.

After lengthy discussion we, and each of the candidates, agreed that there is much to be done in the African-American community in general but specifically as it relates to employment and employment opportunities in the state. We concluded that each candidate in his own way has taken our community for granted and must do quite a bit more than just pledge his commitment to us around election time. However, we as African-American leaders cannot be divided, scattered and individually motivated to accept the scraps thrown our way. We must demand more accountability from our own leaders and the politicians we choose to represent us.

To this end, we discussed increasing African-American representation in state and local government, including administrative staff leadership and state-appointed boards, commissions and other non-elected bodies that oversee state and local funds. We are particularly concerned about the lack of African Americans on the Executive Ethics Commission. Out of nine commissioners, at least two should be African American.

We insisted that the billions of dollars in contracts that trickle through the state and local government be reflective of our community. Currently, only a paltry 1% of state spending goes to African-American owned businesses. We challenged them to raise this to at least 15%. 

We demanded eliminating the use of waivers and encouraged the candidates to contract with companies whose employees are representative of the state and local demographics. State institutions continue to issue waivers that give companies doing business with them a pass on fulfilling diverse vendor requirements.

We encouraged reforming current legislation to favor Illinois-based businesses, increasing employment in the state and thus for African Americans.

We discussed increasing allocations for summer employment, job readiness and mentoring programs. These are just a few of the things we demanded.

Each candidate, of course, pledged to do better.  There was even mention of percentages and goals that would be reasonable to attain.  Whichever one wins the office, Harriet’s Daughters plans to hold him accountable to this agenda.  We are inviting others to get on board as well.