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Joe Debro on racism in construction, Part 15

February 4, 2017

A study of the manpower implications of small business financing

by Joseph Debro

A 1968 book-length report, titled “A Study of the Manpower Implications of Small Business Financing: A Survey of 149 Minority and 202 Anglo-Owned Small Businesses in Oakland, California,” was sent to the Bay View by its author, Joseph Debro, prior to his death in November 2013, and his family has kindly permitted the Bay View to publish it. The survey it’s based on was conducted by the Oakland Small Business Development Center, which Debro headed, “in cooperation with the small businessmen of Oakland, supported in part by a grant, No. 91-05-67-29, from the U.S. Department of Labor, Manpower Administration, Office of Manpower, Policy, Evaluation and Research.” Project co-directors were Jack Brown and Joseph Debro, and survey coordinator was Agustin Jimenez. The Bay View is publishing the report as a series. A prolog appeared in the December 2013 Bay View, Part 1 in January 2014, Part 2 in February, Part 3 in April, Part 4 in May, Part 5 in June, Part 6 in August, Part 7 in October, Part 8 in November, Part 9 in January 2015, Part 10 in March, Part 11 in May, Part 12 in October, Part 13 in December, Part 14 in May 2016, and this is Part 15 of the report.

Occupational characteristics

The severe socio-economic problems of Oakland’s ghettoes are exacerbated even more by the employment patterns of Oakland’s principal minority groups (see Table IX).

There are proportionately over three times as many male professional, technical and kindred workers in the total population as there are in the Negro population. Similarly, the total percentage of male managers, officials, proprietors and sales workers is more than twice that of Negroes in these categories.

On the other hand, there are proportionately about as many or more Negroes in clerical work, or employed as craftsmen, foremen and operatives and kindred workers. There are twice as many Negroes, proportionately, who are engaged as service workers, laborers and private household workers as in the population as a whole.

Similar generalizations can be made about employed Negro females. We wish to underscore here that fully 37.3 percent of all Negro males and 44.2 percent of all Negro females are held in the lowest paying occupational categories: service workers and laborers.

These data indicate that the nationwide trend is followed in Oakland where whites, in general, are connected with higher prestige positions and non-whites with the converse. Furthermore, these higher positions carry with them corresponding remuneration and are less likely to be ones which are jeopardized by fluctuations in the economic cycle or by other variables.

They are more dependent upon higher levels of education and experience. As a consequence, Anglo jobs tend to be more stable than those associated with Negroes and Mexican Americans.

Employment, subemployment, unemployment

The West Oakland Community Center, shown here in 1970, was operated by the National Committee to Combat Fascism in America, “an organizing bureau of the Black Panther Party,” according to the sign, which also spells out the goals regarding employment: “Workers’ unity for full employment for all” and “Education, full employment for Black, Brown and poor.” – Photo: It’s About Time Archive

In January of 1967, the unemployment rate in the nation as a whole was reported as about 3.7 percent. In the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area, it was reported as about 4.3 percent (“Sub-Employment in the Slums of Oakland,” 1967:2). In the Flatlands of Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland, the unemployment rate was listed as 13 percent, and the report adds, “(I)f we could take precise account of all the ‘negative’ employment factors in a measurement of serious job problems, we would find that about three out of every 10 are sub-employed” (Ibid.). This report goes on to state:

“The traditional measuring of unemployment in the United States and the thinking about it has been in terms that (i) average in the good and the bad, and (ii) leave out the special problems of limited employment, low wage employment and those who are so discouraged that they have ‘given up.’

“As a result, the standard over-all averages both overstate the amount of unemployment in most areas and grossly understate the situation in those few areas where most of the country’s remaining poverty, unemployment and subemployment is concentrated.”

Traditional concepts of unemployment omit the following categories: part-time workers who are looking for full time employment, those working at full time jobs but who are receiving low wages, those who drop out of the labor force and who do not seek employment although they are able-bodied, and those individuals considered to be “invisible” members of the society who are presumed to be within the community but who do not appear enumerated in the census or survey of unemployment.

This omission in the definition accounts for the overstatement of employment and the understatement of the gravity of the real unemployment situation. Some of the findings of this special survey conducted by the University of California and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor are:

  • Thirteen percent of the work force in the East Bay slums were unemployed in November 1966 and were actively seeking work.
  • For teenagers in the ghettoes, the unemployment rate was 41 percent.
  • Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the Flatlands families reported an annual income of $3,000 or less. For the remainder of Oakland, only 11.5 percent were in this income bracket.
  • Ten percent of the males in the survey who were between the ages of 35 and 44 were neither working nor seeking employment. This compares with a national average of 3 percent for this “prime working age” category. These persons, because they did not actively seek work, were not considered to be unemployed.
  • Only 82 men in the age range 20 to 49 could be located for every 100 females in the same age bracket. The authors could not explain the absence of 18 men for every 100 women, but the implication is that without the Negro male providers, the household economic structure of such families is jeopardized.
  • The sub-employment rate among Flatlanders may be conservatively 30 percent, many of whom (42.3 percent) were under 20 years of age and Negro.
  • One third of the Negro males in the ghettoes worked outside the city. This is twice the percentage of whites similarly employed.

Joseph Debro, born Nov. 27, 1928, in Jackson, Miss., and a pillar of Oakland until his death on Nov. 5, 2013, was president of Bay Area Black Builders and of Transbay Builders, a general engineering contractor, former director of the Oakland Small Business Development Center and the California Office of Small Business, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors and a bio-chemical engineer.

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