Our nation, including Milwaukee, is in the midst of two great demographic shifts. First, the largest generation of Americans— Baby Boomers—is reaching retirement age and will leave the workforce en masse within the next two decades.The retirement of the Baby Boom generation will create millions of replacement job openings, at the same time that advanced manufacturing’s growth creates the need for additional workers to fill newly created jobs.
Second, as the demand for workers increases in manufacturing our nation is becoming more demographically diverse. African Americans and other people of color make up a growing share of the population that will be entering their prime working years over the next two decades. With large numbers of manufacturing jobs demanding STEM education and skills, these individuals and their children will reshape the available workforce, and play a vital role in sustaining economic growth.
In the 2000s, 92% of US population growth came from communities of color. “One of the things the census really tells us is that diversity is in our future,” says demographer William H. Frey. “All of the growth we have in the child population in this last decade comes from minority groups. I think this is a huge statement for where we’re going for the rest of this century.” Indeed, significant changes are occurring. According to a Brookings Institute analysis, 50% of the population in 22 large metro areas and 50% of infants under age five are people of color, making the US a “majority minority” nation.
While a disproportionate share of youth in the inner city come from low-income families, our educational system has been geared to middle-income children. Our curriculum, textbooks and recognized teaching methods are all aimed at the experiences and values of middle-class children. But the instructional program that is good for middle-income children is not necessarily good for children whose background is one of poverty.
Children living in poverty have not had many of the simple experiences we assume are common to all youngsters. They likely have not been taught at home to place a high value on education, and to think of education as the key to success because their parents likely may not have finished high school or received post-secondary education from a technical or four-year college, or a trade training program. Instead of being prepared for school with a home full of books, magazines, and newspapers their childhood experiences are often filled with illness, hunger, threats of eviction, instability and danger. Because of the low status society has accorded them and their families, these children are likely to have a low self-image, and lack the motivation to succeed—at least in terms of what is considered success in middle-class terms. The most severe handicap these children face is their lack of verbal communication skills achieved by reading and writing. Without these skills it is difficult to think critically, and use more advanced software (digital design, modeling and simulation) to visually express creativity and analysis.
Several recent studies have examined the causes of the dearth of African American-owned businesses and found relatively low levels of education, assets, and parental selfemployment are partly responsible. For example, Census estimates indicate African American-owned firms have lower revenues and profits, hire fewer employees, and are more likely to close than white-owned businesses.
The relative lack of success of African American-owned businesses in the United States is a major concern among policymakers. It is particularly troubling because business ownership has historically been a route of economic advancement for disadvantaged groups. It has been argued, for example, that the economic success of earlier immigrant groups in the United States—such as the Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Italians, and Greeks—is due, in part, to their ownership of small businesses. In addition, many states and the federal government are currently promoting self-employment as a way for families to leave the welfare and unemployment insurance rolls. The lack of business success among African Americans also contributes to racial tensions in urban areas throughout the United States.