Once an industrial hub, New Haven struggles to place residents in local jobs

New Haven residents rally calling for local employers to hire city residents. (Photo Credit: Melinda Tuhus)

In New Haven, Connecticut, a so-called “jobs pipeline” created by labor unions and community advocates, city officials, and the city’s largest employers has had some success in placing city residents in jobs over the past two years. But the unemployment rate for African Americans and Latinos is still about twice that of white residents. Melinda Tuhus reports.

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According to U.S. Census data, there are 83,000 jobs in New Haven. Of those, more than half pay what city officials and labor advocates say is a “living wage” of at least $20 an hour. But only 9,000 of those living wage jobs are held by New Haven residents, and only 2,000 of them by residents in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

Beyond addressing unemployment, the City has a vested interest in placing local residents in local jobs. Connecticut is home to 169 cities and towns, each with its own municipal government and tax base. New Haven draws workers from the surrounding county and beyond, but those workers pay taxes where they live, not where they work.

A group called New Haven Rising recently held a rally and march for jobs to demand that employers do more.

“We want our jobs to come back to the city,” Dominique Dickey, who lead chants during the high energy march, explains. “We want the money to come back to the city. We want equality to come back to the city. We want to keep doing this. We want to keep the jobs flowing to our residents.”

The unemployment rate for whites in New Haven is about 10 percent; for African Americans it’s just over 18 and for Latinos, more than 20 percent.

The city has a storied industrial past. It was an oystering powerhouse for a couple of centuries, starting in colonial days. In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell established the first telephone exchange in the world here. For about a century from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s the city was a major gun manufacturer. In World War II, Connecticut was known as the “Arsenal State” for its production of armaments, much of which occurred in New Haven.

Joe Taylor is the People’s Historian of New Haven. His small apartment is filled floor to ceiling with historical documents and photographs of the city’s development.

“The carriage industry was another major industry that was around for a long time,” Taylor recounts. “So you had this whole area that had all this carriage manufacturing, then being replaced by the garment industry. In the back of city directories from the 1920s or even earlier, all the companies that were in New Haven…it’s like a Who’s Who of Industry. And that base is gone. What do we have now? We have Yale, we have the hospital.”

New Haven Works is a collaboration of the city, the labor movement and large employers to serve as a matchmaker between local workers and businesses and institutions looking to hire. Executive Director Mary Reynolds says in its first two years of operation, the agency placed more than 700 New Haveners in jobs.

“So of our placements since we opened, 84 percent are people of color — African American and Latino/Hispanic, or bi-racial,” says Reynolds. I think our highest wage is about $38 an hour — I think that was for a bank executive and also for someone who worked in the physical plant at Yale. We also have some minimum wage jobs we’ve helped place people into as a first step on to a better career and a good job, in all sorts of industries — educational services, health care – all over the place, a variety of different employers.”

Mayor Toni Harp addressed the rally in support of the demand for more jobs. She said New Haven Works has already identified and pre-screened more than 500 trained and qualified city residents who are still seeking employment.

“We will work to re-route bus lines and address other transportation needs to connect more people with jobs,” Mayor Harp tells the crowd, pledging to help remove obstacles. “We’ll help those with a criminal record so they’re not deprived of a level playing field.”

Harp also said employers like Yale University, Yale New Haven Hospital, and the city itself must do more to respond to the crisis. Following the rally, protesters broke into two groups, one visiting the construction site of Yale University’s two new residential colleges, and the other marching a few blocks to Yale New Haven Hospital, the city’s second largest employer.

Yale is New Haven’s largest employer, with 13,000 workers, fewer than a third of whom live in New Haven. The university recently announced it would hire another 500 city residents over the next two years, but declined to give further details.

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