Stimulus Woes: How One Coalition is Working for More Equitable Spending

A search party for the missing women and people of color at a MnDOT work-site. Uploaded by HIRE Minnesota; see the rest of the set on flickr

For 17 straight years, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has failed to meet their own, not-remarkably-ambitious hiring goals: that at least 11% of their workforce should be people of color and at least 6% should be women.  (Minnesota is 85% white, though not 94% male.)

The economic stimulus was meant to benefit everyone in hard economic times, partially through job creation in the transportation sector. African-Americans are hit disproportionately by job losses in a recession, but in Minnesota they haven’t received the full benefit from the stimulus money, an investment meant to aid everyone.

The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, one of Smart Growth America’s partners examining state stimulus spending, has been working as part of a large coalition of 70 groups called HIRE Minnesota (or HIRE-MN) to ensure equity for low income communities and communities of color, not just in allocation of the stimulus money, but to ensure that people of color and low-income people get more opportunities to train for family-supporting jobs in infrastructure and green-collar work.

HIRE-MN includes social justice organizations, environmental organizations, political organizations, grassroots organizations, and training organizations.

Rhiremnrallyecently, HIRE-MN has been showcasing the lack of attention paid to MnDOT’s “old boy’s club” hiring practices, and, more broadly, how this means the stimulus funds are not getting distributed equitably.

Last week, HIRE-MN showed up at a Department of Transportation worksite on a “missing-persons search party” for the women and people of color “missing” from the workers. Next week they have planned a funeral for the construction season, and for the lost chance for MnDOT to get it right — though HIRE-MN still hopes 2010 will be a better year for getting more women and people of color into MnDOT’s ranks.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the benefit of the stimulus,” said Jennifer Jimenez-Wheatley, an organizer and researcher for Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.  “We want to make sure these investments don’t bypass us.”

hiremncapitolAlso this year, HIRE-MN organized five town hall meetings, which culminated a rally at the Capitol to ask that legislators specifically grant low-income people and people of color opportunities with stimulus money.

A state legislator noted the impressive size of the crowd and how it differed from the usual Capitol day-to-day scene. “I’ve never seen so many people here not in suits,” he reportedly said.

All told, about 2000 community members were involved. Due in large part to the work of HIRE-MN, the Minnesota legislature allocated $1 million for training of low-income people for weatherization jobs (the stimulus is the largest weatherization program in history), $1 million for training of low-income people for other renewable energy jobs, and $500,000 for programs to perform outreach in the community — for a grand total of $2.5 million. HIRE-MN is currently watching the spending carefully to make sure that the money is allocated properly on the ground.

“For many low income communities and communities of color, even as change occurs they’ve always been left behind,” said Jimenez-Wheatley. “They’ve been shut out of the benefits.  So we were coming for that point of view: if change is coming, then we want the real change. If Obama is talking about green jobs, then we want to make sure low-income communities and communities of color are part of that.  We’re not going to be shut out again.”