By Annika Darling
Unemployment rates remain among the nations highest for the Latino community in Rhode Island, and have local workforce training programs working double time.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rates among the Latino community – their fastest growing population – are nearly double the state’s average: 18.2 percent. As of Nov. 2013, the national average for Latino unemployment was 7.7 percent. These numbers are in accordance to a new Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report.
Latinos face many obstacles when it comes to finding a job, and the two greatest hurdles have been found to be in education and English proficiency. While educational attainment has improved in dramatic fashion in R.I. since 1980, the numbers are still quite low among Latino immigrant youth, with 36 percent not enrolled in school and without a diploma – as reported in an equity profile for R.I. developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE).
Juana Horton, Chair of the R.I. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says, “With lower education there is less of an opportunity. Now employers are requiring college education. A long time ago without a high school diploma you couldn’t get a good job, now it’s turned into a four year degree. Employers are looking for a higher educated workforce.”
Horton states that there are many job training centers in R.I. and most of them are at full capacity. She says, “They are for anybody but the majority of them are located in heavily immigrant populated areas. Because we see such a demand for these types of centers, and they all seem to be overflowing, it would be really beneficial for the state to continue funding these types of programs and expand their reach.”
Shannon Carroll, Senior VP of Operations at The Genesis Center – a job training center in Providence, R.I., says that while the students at The Center come from all over, the majority are Hispanic. Though, she says, what they all have in common is low-level education attainment.
Carroll says, “The number one obstacle for Latinos getting jobs is English proficiency. If you don’t have this your options are limited in what you can do for work. Seven years ago it was so much easier for entry level Latinos to get work, but because so many people are out of work those who are probably more qualified for higher level positions are taking the entry level positions and pushing out the Latino population, or the low-skilled population in general.”
The main goal of The Genesis Center is to increase English proficiency, in a “contextualized learning” environment. This means they incorporate learning English into a variety of life skills type classes. The Center is almost fully funded, and for students there is a small $35 admission fee. There are different levels of programs, and two major career track programs: a culinary arts program, and a health care program. Carroll says the reason they focus on these two careers is “because those are the two burling industries in R.I. and they are also the industries our graduates will most likely be able to get entry level positions in.”
Although training centers like The Genesis Center are working hard to educate the Latino community and combat unemployment, they simply don’t have the capacity to meet the demands of the community.
Carroll has been with the program three years and says, “We’ve always had a waiting list since I’ve been here. And we’ve always been filled to capacity. The demand has always been there. It has been there and remains there.”
Kate Brewster, Executive Director of the local Economic Progress Institute, agrees with the path of The Genesis Center, and says in order to solve the unemployment situation for Latinos the state needs to continue investing in English language services and workforce training. She states, “We need to ensure that all of our residents are prepared to fully participate in the service and knowledge-based economy that is growing in our state.” She goes on to explain that, “By converting both our immigrant and native workforce into tomorrow’s knowledge workers, Rhode Island will have a competitive advantage.”