MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Unemployment in the United States currently sits at 8.5 percent — the lowest it’s been in three years. That statistic, however, does not ring true for Minnesota’s African-American community.

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Nationwide, the percentage of African-Americans looking for work in December went up from 15.5 percent to 15.8 percent. In Minnesota, that percentage is considerably higher — around 20 percent.

In comparison with the 7 percent unemployment of whites in Minnesota, the difference is the largest disparity in the nation.

Some say the disparity exists because of the state-mandated hiring restrictions for blacks with criminal records. Others say it’s the lack of job skills and training needed to fill available jobs. Whatever the reason, people looking for work say the gap needs to close.

Juriad Hughes is one of those people looking for a job.

Hughes, who is black, has been looking for work for more than eight months. He graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in management, but the only thing he’s managed lately is his time spent searching for work.

“Applying for jobs now can take anywhere from an hour to two hours simply doing applications and uploading resumes,” Hughes said.

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Scott Gray, the president of the Minneapolis Urban League, said people have been talking about the disparity for a long time, but not much has been done about shrinking the gap.

“It’s just time for some action,” Gray said. “The urgency is now.”

A good start, Gray thinks, might be a push to create businesses in the community. Then those businesses might hire those seeking jobs. Gray says he would also like to see the corporate community be more intentional in their efforts to diversify their ranks.

With more Fortune 500 companies per capita than most major cities, Minneapolis, he thinks, is only missing the people who are truly committed to shrinking the jobless gap between blacks and whites.

As for Hughes, he says he is focused on finding a job. He uses the resource center at the Urban League and attends various seminars and workshops.

“I don’t give up,” he said.

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But before things get better, they might get worse. Minnesota’s declining graduation rates may make it even harder for many to find jobs.

Reg Chapman