On Saturday, Dec. 7, leaders from East Bay community and faith-based organizations from Richmond to Hayward brought together diverse populations struggling to find employment at the Work For All: Building an Inclusive Economy summit.

Planned as the kick-off event for a long-term initiative, the summit focused on a trend that has too often been ignored: While the Bay Area economy as a whole continues to recover, there is still a need to create good jobs for those who have historically been left out of the economic growth. The summit showed that by bringing like-minded people together to build inter-faith, multi-racial, multi-ethnic and inter-organizational alliances, communities can begin to break down the barriers that exclude some segments of our population from the workforce. Building those alliances will also help create the steps needed to remedy the problem.

“To build an inclusive economy in the East Bay, it’s important to look at the barriers that impact the formerly incarcerated, the undocumented folks, the nail salon workers and all these folks who are experiencing a rapid level of unemployment,” Brandon Sturdivant, an organizer with Oakland Community Organizations, one of the organizations that led the summit said. “That’s what we accomplished with this summit, and that’s the message we’re trying to spread to the region: We’re changing the inequity in our job market by supporting excluded workers.”

More than 275 people participated in the event and attended workshops such as “Building Bridges to Good Jobs for Formerly Incarcerated, Immigrants & Refugees” and “Demanding Quality Jobs from Big Development Projects.” Due to the diversity of participants, workshops and summit materials were translated into Spanish, Vietnamese and Bhutani. East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and several other East Bay organizations helped put together the event.

Attendees also learned the results of a pre-summit survey that looked at the current employment and hiring experiences of East Bay workers who have been historically excluded from the region’s economic growth. Nearly 1,500 surveys were collected this fall at community meetings and online. What was found in the surveys was troubling.

The Bay Area is the 19th largest economy in the world. Last year, the region saw 9,400 jobs added to its payrolls each month. Yet, on the other side of the Bay in the flatlands of cities like Oakland and Richmond, some communities—comprised of high concentrations of people of color—have seen little economic opportunity. The surveys also revealed that:

  • Less than one-third of the people in these communities are employed full-time;
  • 41 percent are unemployed;
  • Unemployment rates are higher for residents who are undocumented, formerly incarcerated and non-English speaking;
  • 57 percent of working adults do not make a living wage, which means they can barely afford to pay rent or buy groceries for their families.

“When I was asked to be a part of this survey, I said, ‘This is easy. I know people can’t get jobs. I know people who’ve got murders on their records. Everybody else, y’all ain’t got no record. Ya’ll don’t have an excuse.’ Wrong,” John Jones, a formerly incarcerated individual, said at the summit. “It shocked me to see that we’re all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter our ethnicity or our religious background. It doesn’t matter what community we come from. We’re all in the same boat because this is a people problem.”

At the end of the summit, participants agreed to continue meeting and organizing around the issues discussed in the breakout sessions. Over the next several months, the organizations that planned the summit are looking to reconvene another public action focused on excluded workers—only next time, businesses and key elected officials will be invited to participate in creating the solutions.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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5 Responses

  1. Liz K

    I’m glad to hear there is organizing going on around this issue. It is definitely needed.

  2. paula welsh

    Please give me a call I would like to talk about economic development 510 326-8668

  3. R2D2II

    An important problem which this article only points to in a most general way. A couple of observations hopefully to provide useful context:

    1. Much politicians’ focus on “job creation” has to to with huge, regionally-significant development projects. This is a kind of “trickle down” (Ronald Reagan-era propaganda) approach for which I have seen no evidence of effectiveness for producing more jobs for those who need them most. It’s a political sales pitch more than anything else.

    2. There is an economic development strategy very successful in the Third World which is that of providing “microloans” to individuals and small groups to start businesses in their communities providing goods and service much needed by those communities. Remember that most jobs in the U.S. are in small, local businesses. This could be a way to actually grow the economies of places like East Oakland.

    The above goes along with productive infrastructure improvements like running a light rail system along International Blvd. from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. Other successful cities like Portland have used this approach to reinvigorate areas needing help.

  4. Len Raphael

    Oakland politicians equate/conflate economic development and employment growth w large real estate developments. Not sure whether they do that out of desperation or expediency. It is much easier to encourage a large real estate development than to foster business and employment growth. Much easier to get a quick boost from construction jobs that only last a couple of years, than from good paying permanent jobs that match the extreme range of skills and experience of residents.

    In a separate policy compartment, local officials and non-profits run “job training” programs that seem to have a life of their own disconnected from actual job placement and retention.


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