WASHINGTON - As Black History Month begins, there's some good news for African Americans in the workforce.
The unemployment rate for African-American workers has decreased steadily since 2010, and the retail and restaurant industries can take some of the credit. The Path Forward Coalition is made up of restaurant and retail businesses that promote opportunities in the service sector and highlight how businesses are adapting to a changing economy. Senior Advisor Broderick Johnson is an attorney who worked for two U.S. presidents - most recently, Barack Obama. But his first job was in retail, and Johnson said it offered valuable lessons: "To do the job well that I was in; to be a very, very good retail clerk - to be responsible, to be responsive, to show up at work every day, to treat customers with respect, to be a team player," Johnson said. "And those are skills that made me successful then, but have certainly carried on throughout my career."
For Black History Month, the Path Forward Coalition pointed out that restaurant and retail businesses are among the most diverse in the country. And 15 percent of restaurant managers are people of color. Minority entrepreneurs also are starting more small food and retail businesses. Researchers say the nation's rate of new business creation would have declined over the past three decades if not for these efforts. In turn, Johnson said, these entrepreneurs give more young people their first jobs. "The service industry is such an important place for many of those young people to get their first start," he said. "It's going to be very important that young people see jobs in those industries as jobs involving innovation and using technology.
" Former New York City Commissioner Robert Doar, now a senior adviser with the Path Forward Coalition, said millennials too often focus on the low starting pay, and ignore entire segments of this market that might be a good fit. "Too much reluctance to take that first opportunity, in the long run, can hold people back," Doar said. "And I think that the data shows that if you try to help people escape poverty - try to help them set an example for their family, and be better providers for their children - employment is better than non-employment."
The Minority Business Development Agency says minority-owned businesses face challenges, including smaller loan amounts and higher interest rates. But in a 2016 survey by Biz2Credit, three-quarters of the minority entrepreneurs said they were confident about the future health of their businesses.