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Race still remains an obstacle in SC for jobs, economic opportunities, according to survey

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A new survey by the Charleston Forum shows less than half of the Black respondents in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties believe a qualified Black candidate has an equal chance of landing a job as a qualified white candidate. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Black South Carolinians in the Charleston area still see discrimination as a problem when it comes to employment and economic opportunity, and that was before the latest recession set in.

The Charleston Forum, a group focused on discussing issues surrounding race, recently surveyed people in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties about jobs, careers and entrepreneurship. 

The good news is that over 90 percent of all survey respondents believe that qualified individuals should have an equal chance of obtaining a job or starting a successful business, no matter the color of their skin.

But there is a significant divide among the people who were surveyed when asked whether that economic equality is a reality. 

Roughly 65 percent of the white South Carolinians who took the survey said qualified Black applicants had as good of a chance of landing a job as qualified white applicants. 

Meanwhile, only 44 percent of the Black survey respondents agreed with that statement and only half of them believed they had an equal chance of founding a profitable business in the Charleston region. 

Those results are not a surprise to people who are working to improve the economic opportunities for historically disadvantaged communities in the Lowcountry and throughout South Carolina. 

Darrin Goss, president and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation, said he heard a lot about economic inequality when his group held community meetings in South Carolina's nine coastal counties in recent years.  

The constant concern among Black South Carolinians, Goss said, was that they didn't have access to jobs that provide benefits, a living wage and opportunities for career advancement.

The people Goss spoke to, he said, often didn't know about jobs that were available to them or didn't feel like they had the skills to adequately compete for positions.  

"People could suggest that's about racism, or that there are some structural challenges with the way we educate people and how we communicate job opportunities to people," Goss said. "That's what we heard over and over and over again." 

Solving those problems, Goss said, shouldn't solely be on the individuals who feel shut out of the job market and the economy.

Companies that are marketing jobs and groups offering educational and financial assistance to people of color, Goss said, also need to do a better job of reaching out to members of those communities. They need to contact people outside their normal networks. 

Goss said that's also true for the Coastal Community Foundation, which awards tens of millions of dollars in charitable grants and scholarships each year. 

"I think it's incumbent on the people who provide these opportunities to outreach to these groups in a different way," Goss said.

"You have to fish in a different pond," he said. "If I'm going through the same channels I always go through, then I might need to think about where I'm actually fishing for those candidates." 

In the past decade, job opportunities for Black workers seemingly improved as the American economy grew and the national unemployment rate fell to historic lows. 

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An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute last year found that the unemployment rate among white and Black people was closer in South Carolina than many other states. It also showed the unemployment rate among Black residents improved by 8.2 percent from 2007 to 2019.

That was likely driven by the state's historically low unemployment rate, which led the nation at the beginning of 2020. 

But there are already concerns that the gains made by Black Americans in recent years could be wiped away by the new recession that was brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The national unemployment rates among both races spiked over the past four months as states closed down parts of the economy in an effort to fight the virus.

The slight recovery that followed, however, has been less than equal. 

The white unemployment rate nationally fell from more than 16 percent to 10 percent between April and June, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. But the unemployment rate among Black Americans remained above 15.4 percent during that time. 

It's not just employment gains that might be wiped out in black communities as the recession continues to drag on. 

Groups like the South Carolina Community Loan Fund, which is focused on providing disadvantaged communities with access to capital, are also concerned that black-owned businesses will be hit particularly hard by the economic downturn. 

Anna Lewin, CEO of the Community Loan Fund, has already seen data that suggests Black-owned businesses were struggling more than white-owned businesses during the early stages of this recession. 

She's not surprised by that or the results from the Charleston Forum's survey. 

"I think this pandemic has uncovered, or re-exposed, some of the inequities that have always existed," Lewin said 

The biggest issue facing many Black entrepreneurs, she said, is a lack of capital or collateral when they try to obtain a loan to start or maintain a company.  

Part of the reason for that, Lewin said, is because there is a "history of disinvestment and discrimination" when it comes to African American communities in the United States. 

Many Blacks can struggle to obtain loans and other financing because they don't have collateral, inherited wealth or an existing relationship with banks and other lenders. They can be seen as a risky bet. 

That's exactly why the Community Loan Fund has extended roughly 60 percent of its loans to Black borrowers. The goal of that spending, Lewin said, is to create wealth building opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

"I think the structural issues persist," she said. "But we know with every business that we finance, that is success. We are getting money into communities that are historically underserved for a variety of reasons." 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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