Inequality persists as the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic

The latest jobs report for April shows the U.S. capping a year of solid growth. Employers added 428,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remains steady at 3.6 percent, a pandemic-era low. But inequality continues as the economy recovers from the pandemic. Maurice Jones, former Virginia commerce secretary and HUD official, and now CEO of the organization OneTen, joins Geoff Bennet to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The latest jobs report for April shows the U.S. capping a year of solid growth. Employers added 428,000 jobs in April, and the unemployment rate remains steady at 3.6%. That's a pandemic-era low. But as the economy recovers from the pandemic inequality persists, black unemployment stands at 5.9%. That's close to double that of white workers.

    For more on this I'm joined by Maurice Jones. He's the former Commerce Secretary of Virginia, and a former Housing and Urban Development official. Jones is now the CEO of an organization called OneTen, which seeks to close the opportunity gap.

    It's great to have you with us here in studio.

  • Maurice Jones, CEO OneTen:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And I want to start with this, what accounts for this disparity in unemployment and in wages?

  • Maurice Jones:

    The disparity is really about the holistic picture of blacks in the economy today, right? You have to have quality training, you have to have access to transportation, all of those things impact one's employment, one's wages, one's ability to get to a job and so all of those things have to be addressed in order to really close this if you will employment gap that you're seeing.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And so how is OneTen seeking to do that? And we should say your organization is trying to get 1 million African American workers into sustainable successful careers over the next 10 years?

  • Maurice Jones:

    Next 10 years, that's right. So one of the challenges is, in fact of systemic barriers. If you look at black talent in the workforce today, ages 25, and above 76% of us do not yet have a four year degree. So you literally have a systemic barrier in the form of a credential to black talent. And by the way, other talent of color, earning their way into the middle class.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    How has your organization sort of stepped into the breach here and helps people?

  • Maurice Jones:

    What we're doing now with companies is challenging them to re credential their jobs. So a real concrete example is we now have, I'll give you an example without naming a company, but a healthcare company, a major healthcare company that has operations, not only in the U.S., but also outside of the country. They now as a result of joining OneTen have decided that they're going to reposition, rebuild all of their jobs, from a skills first perspective. That means that now where they have some jobs that require you to have a certain academic degree to actually enter, if there are additional ways that you could actually get the skills for those jobs, they're going to remove that academic credential as a requirement for the job.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I think your personal story is in many ways instructive and inspirational. You were born into a small farming family and in rural Virginia, worked your way up, ultimately was a Rhodes Scholar and then became a leading voice in politics in business. What were the inflection points in your career?

  • Maurice Jones:

    The first inflection point is my grandparents, right? My grandfather born in 1914, by the way, went to school in a barn for six years. And then because of his color, had to go to work, could not go to school. Grandmother born in 1919, went to school because she could walk, she went to the segregated colored school.

    Another inflection point for me, though, was when I was 14 years old, eighth grade, I was on the debate team and my junior high school, and a science teacher introduced me to a senator, a state senator and said, hey, we think you would be a good candidate to be a page in the General Assembly.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Wow.

  • Maurice Jones:

    I had no idea what a page was, the only page I knew up were the ones in books. So I looked at them real strange, like, what do y'all want to hear? But I went off and I became a page. And during that time, I saw all these lawmakers. Now, I'm a 14 year old, with law degrees. And so I concluded, wow, if I want to make a difference in the world, I'm going to try to become a lawyer. And so my ambition to become a lawyer was forged because this eighth grade science teacher introduced me to a state senator. So —

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It goes back to that notion that you can't be what you can't see. That people need to be able to see themselves in these different environment?

  • Maurice Jones:

    Yes. It also goes back to that notion that the notion of being self-made, I just don't know any self-made folks. I'm definitely not self-made. All of these people, my grandmother, my science teacher, my coaches, my professors, they made me and so that's the key. And the other piece of it for me is you can start anywhere. And if you've got people who love you and who will invest in you, your opportunities are certainly going to your point, they're going to outstretch your vision, that's for sure.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yeah. And now you're trying to provide similar opportunities for so many other people.

  • Maurice Jones:

    I'm trying to keep telling my grandmother and grandfather, thank you, yes.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Maurice Jones, thanks so much for coming in.

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