AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new report from Workforce Solutions Capital Area highlights the disproportionate impact of unemployment in Texas and Austin, which the group says has been made worse by the pandemic.

The report states that the latest data available for the Austin metro area shows unemployment among white neighbors was at 3.4% in August, compared to 6% among Black neighbors and 4.1% among Hispanic neighbors.

The group says their data also shows that 69% of the those claiming unemployment in Travis County since March 2020 have less than an associate’s degree — and those folks are also disproportionately Black or Hispanic.

“It sucks. It sucks, that’s all I can say about that,” says Reese Herd, a member and co-founder of the Black Austin Coalition who says he’s not surprised about the report.

His wife lost her job during the pandemic, and Herd says it was difficult to keep the family of seven afloat on just his income.

“We had daycare, we had we had our kids in sports, we had two cars…”

Herd says he knows many other Black families who found themselves trying to live on one and/or no income.

Jameson Cardenas, spokesperson for Workforce Solutions Capital Area (WFS), says their unemployment report comes even as some areas in Austin saw job growth.

Reese Herd says he felt blessed to be in a high-demand industry, plating semiconductors. He says it kept his family afloat while his wife searched for a new job. (Photo courtesy Reese Herd)

“What we’re also seeing is that high-skilled workers in our region, in our most in-demand sectors, have enjoyed a wealth of job opportunities and financial gains even through COVID,” says Cardenas. “But these advantages have not been experienced by everyone in our community.”

Cardenas says WFS is on the verge of launching its Hire Local Plan in January. The goal is “to improve economically disadvantaged residents’ access to better economic opportunities through skills training,” according to WFS’ weekly CEO report.

Right now, Cardenas says they’re trying to figure out how best to reach those residents, and help them complete WFS’ programs.

“Whenever we track people that graduate from our programs, over time, their income rises,” he says.

According to their 2016–18 program data, the non-profit says the annual average wage increase for an adult who completes their Workforce Training is $15,000 or more, which translates to about a $7 increase per hour.

WFS has conducted eight community engagement sessions, so far, to get feedback. That’s included input from community groups like United Way for Greater Austin, Austin Hispanic Chamber, and IBM.

They say one suggestion for their Hire Local Plan has been opening up WFS services to their organizations by allowing co-enrollment and cross -referral.

“We need more seats and classes,” Cardenas says. “And we need to be smart about examining that and working with our training providers to ensure that capacity is going to match that growth that we see in the community.”

Another suggestion is to join with faith-based groups to help fill the “awareness gap,” and get the word out for training opportunities for high-demand jobs.

“Many young people who are good candidates. they just don’t know about the opportunities are available,” Cardenas says.

Engagement session participants have also suggested bringing more employers into the conversation to help with job placement.

Cardenas says they also plan to expand resources that often present barriers for low-income and those of color in taking training classes, like free childcare and transportation help, thanks to millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funding granted by Austin City Council and Travis County commissioners earlier this year.

Herd says it’s all a good step in addressing the inequity. His wife found another job about a month and a half ago, but he says certification programs are important– he, himself, has taken many different ones.

“A whole host of different things that I’ve been able to put underneath my belt that have been able to help me get to where I’m at at this point,” says Herd, who now works in the manufacturing process of semi-conductors.

If you’d like to give your input on the next Community Workforce Plan, click here.