In Economic Mobility, Equity, Systems Change

Historically, Black workers in the United States face inequities in pay, employment and advancement opportunities. The trend continues today, with wage and employment disparities compounded by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the workforce continues to recover from record-high unemployment, unemployment remains high and wages remain low for Black workers in Southwest Washington.

The overall unemployment in Clark County between 2016 and 2020 totaled 5.1%. For Black individuals, unemployment was 7.8%. In Cowlitz County, overall unemployment landed at 6.5%, compared to 11% for Black individuals.

In the third and most rural county served by Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), Wahkiakum County, the overall unemployment totaled 5.6%, with Black individuals having a 0.0% unemployment rate.

In addition to high unemployment rates, Black workers across the tri-county region experience wage disparities. In Clark County, the earnings in a stable job for all races during 2021 averaged $67,016. In comparison, Black workers averaged $53,587 annually and white workers averaged $67,762.

In Cowlitz County, the average overall wages and wages for Black workers differ by only $58, with the overall wages averaging $62,215, white workers averaging $62,668 and Black workers averaging $62,157.

Wahkiakum County presents stark wage disparities, with an overall average wage of $45,823, white workers averaging $47,130 and Black workers at $18,422. Although the employment data for Wahkiakum County presents a positive outlook for employment, Black workers in the county trail in terms of earnings.

Across Southwest Washington, the top three industries occupied by the largest percentage of Black workers vary slightly. In Clark County, the top three industries for Black workers include Healthcare and Social Assistance (1,302 workers), Retail Trade (557) and Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (528).

In Cowlitz County, the top three industries are Health Care and Social Assistance (172), Retail Trade (123) and Manufacturing (111). Wahkiakum County’s top three industries include Healthcare and Social Assistance (8), Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (1) and Educational Services (1). The prevalence of Black workers in frontline fields, such as healthcare and retail trade made Black workers one of the hardest hit groups from the COVID-19 pandemic.

WSW strives to improve the economic outlook for Black workers in Southwest Washington by providing funds for holistic career services and trainings. WSW invests in WorkSource and Next to provide adult and youth job seekers with career training, support services and job search assistance.

In 2021, WSW and partners at the Clackamas Workforce Partnership and Worksystems released the Quality Jobs Framework, focusing on improving job quality through six strategies: self-sufficiency wages, safe working conditions/worker engagement, comprehensive benefits, accessible hiring and onboarding practices, and training and advancement opportunities.

Working to create and advance job quality in the region, WSW believes in uplifting Black workers through training and advancement opportunities leading to improved job quality. WSW is offering grant funds to businesses that share our dedication to equity to provide training and advancement opportunities for a diverse workforce.

Incumbent worker trainings are an opportunity for businesses to prepare and train workers from historically underserved populations for advancement to quality jobs that elevate their economic well-being. Learn more about the program and how to apply on the WSW website.

Resources for Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Black American Chamber of Commerce (BACC), a community-based organization serving the Portland-Vancouver Metropolitan area, organizes weekly business networking events, community-building events, and provides scholarships for the leaders of tomorrow.

Black in Business Washington is an organization that provides information on Black businesses across Washington State. Contact Black in Business to get your Black-owned business added to the directory!

Black-Owned Business Resource Center is a partnership between Hello Alice and the NAACP. The resource center offers funding opportunities to help you launch and grow, gather experts with the answer to your latest business questions, and hosts a community of fellow owners to collaborate with and cheer you on.

Columbia River Economic Development Council provides free, confidential services to companies looking to start up, grow or relocate to Southwest Washington.

Cowlitz Economic Development Council provides resources to Cowlitz businesses and entrepreneurs including financial services, policy development, site location, strategic partnerships and more!

Greater Vancouver Chamber’s Business Pathways to Opportunity and Development (POD) offers valuable assistance to business owners and entrepreneurs who live in the Southwest Washington region and want to start a business.

Resources for Job Seekers and Employees

WorkSource provides career and support services including resume review, career advice, hiring fairs, skills assessment, on-the-job training, childcare assistance and much more!

Next helps young adults between the ages of 16-24 who are not in school achieve their goals by providing career and employment services, and assistance obtaining a GED.

Partners in Diversity offers Community Resource Groups including a Black Community Resource Group. The affinity spaces are designed to bring people together in a safe space to network, discuss current issues relevant to that specific community and learn from each other.

Constructing Hope is a pre-apprenticeship program in Portland, Oregon that accepts applicants from Southwest Washington. Constructing Hope focuses on serving youth and adults who are people of color, criminal Justice System affected, have low income, and/or are unemployed.

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