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Dane Smith delivers strong testimony to the House-Senate Working Group on Disparities

Date Published: 01/18/2016

Author: Dane Smith

Click here to watch Dane's testimony or read his prepared comments below.

Presentation to House-Senate Working Group on Disparities
January 15, 2015

Representative Knoblach and Senator Champion, members of the working group, I’m Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, a policy research and advocacy organization that seeks a more inclusive prosperity and greater equitable business growth for Minnesota. We especially value smart investments in human capital that increase worker productivity, income and assets for our communities of color and for middle- and low-income families. More skilled and more productive workers and increased aggregate demand are really among the best things we can do for business growth.

Our smartest business leaders increasingly say so too. The New York Times recently featured our state’s highly regarded Itasca Project, an assemblage of this state’s most prominent corporate and businesses leaders. The Itasca Project declared unequivocally in a report last spring that, and I quote: “Our regional competitiveness DEPENDS on broadening opportunities for a more DIVERSE and INCLUSIVE workforce.” This report and many others by mainstream business groups say louder and louder that reducing disparity while simultaneously improving higher-ed attainment, workforce skills, and alignment for communities of color are inseparable imperatives. We could not agree more with State Demographer Susan Brower’s statement to you last week that “Minnesota can’t afford to lose any human potential.”

Last year, culminating several years of work on our Workforce Equity for a Competitive Economy project, we identified eight kinds of effective policy tools that lawmakers and other decision-makers could use to improve workforce equity and alignment of training to jobs in demand. We outlined things like early college credits, remediation reform, lowering tuition costs, performance incentives for community and technical colleges, etc. in an op-ed included in your packet of information.

Today I want to recommend, for action in the 2016 session, one of these tools in particular, the one we listed first, Career Pathways. The Career Pathways model is a relatively new concept that blends existing higher education credits, workforce and vocational training, and social services, serving local employers. In this Sunday’s Star Tribune on the cover of the Op-Ex page you’ll read commentary by Growth & Justice with considerable detail about Career Pathways. We describe Career Pathways as a holistic approach that brings together existing services and funding, combines specialized occupational training with more basic adult education, and college credits, blends in social services support, and partners directly with local business organizations and employers.” This model is showing results, flourishing in Greater Minnesota and Metro Minnesota, and we think it merits much more investment from the 2016 Legislature.

We applaud Sen. Champion’s menu of options and its emphasis on encouraging minority owned businesses to grow and flourish. We very much agree with Rep. Knoblach’s statement in the St. Cloud Times suggesting that tax credits be increased for low-income working families.

In order to remedy a racial opportunity gap that has been caused by a lot of things, from discrimination and overt racism, to family fragmentation, spatial segregation, mass incarceration, to government policies and business practices that discourage skills attainment, including low pay and declining benefits. We also concur with the advice you’ll hear from Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey and Barbara Battiste with the Office of the Economic Status of Women, with many groups from Voices for Racial Justice to the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition to the Minnesota Budget Project. We applaud the courage of those who joined this working group and we earnestly encourage this Legislature to follow up on this historic working group with a permanent bicameral commission or working group that continues to focus on erasing racial disparity. There is no bigger threat to our long-term economic and community health, and it’s also our best opportunity for economic growth.

Thank you, I’m happy to try to answer questions, and please consider us a resource on equity policy going forward, and especially on career pathways.

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