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Report: Boston Latinos get slim share of city jobs

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Report: Boston Latinos get slim share of city jobs
James Jennings discusses findings of the Greater Boston Latino Network’s ‘Silent Crisis II’ report.

The administration of Mayor Martin Walsh has made modest gains in the hiring and appointment of Latinos in city government, but Latinos are lacking in key leadership roles, according to a report released last week by the Greater Boston Latino Network.

Walsh joined the directors of the Latino-led agencies who make up the network at the report release event, and pledged to do more to diversify city government.

The report, titled “The Silent Crisis II,” followed up on a 2014 report and found that Latinos, who represent 19 percent of the city’s population, are underrepresented in leadership positions in city government, holding just 10.5 percent of executive positions and 5.1 percent of positions on city boards and commissions. Of the six Latinos who hold one of the 57 executive positions in city government, five of them are concentrated in Health and Human Services, headed by Monica Valdes Lupi.

Community members listen and tweet as members of the Greater Boston Latino Coalition discuss the findings of the “Silent Crisis II” report on the dearth of Latinos in City Hall.

The report authors noted a slight increase in Latino hires during the more than three years of the Walsh administration, but said more work is to be done to make city government truly representative.

“There has been some progress,” said Tufts University professor emeritus James Jennings, one of the report’s authors. “Not as much as we would want, but some progress.”

The report follows up on a 2014 report GBLN commissioned that underscored the lack of representation of Latinos in civic life in Boston and Chelsea. In Chelsea, where Latinos make up 62 percent of the population, there was greater representation among elected officials, but a similar gap between percentage of the population and representation in city government. In both cities, the Latino populations suffer higher rates of poverty, lower incomes and lower rates of home ownership.

Since 1980, Boston’s population has grown from 562,000 to nearly 680,000, with 92 percent of that growth coming from the Latino community. Walsh said the well being of the city’s expanding Latino population is vital to the city’s future.

“If we don’t adapt our power structure to reflect that change, our city will not be ready for the future,” Walsh said.

The apparent underrepresentation of Latinos in leadership positions is mirrored in other levels of city government, with Latinos making up just 12 percent of city employees, not including the Police and Fire Departments.

While municipal jobs have for many been an entryway into the middle class, Latinos and other people of color have long been shut out of the word-of-mouth networks through which municipal jobs are often filled.

The concentration of Latinos in leadership positions in Health and Human Services and at the Public Health Commission, agencies headed by Felix G. Arroyo and Barbara Ferrar, suggests that hiring people of color as department heads does make a difference.

In 2014, GBLN members announced their findings at City Hall. This year the announcement was made at the Hyde Square Task Force, a youth development agency in Jamaica Plain. And in 2017, city government bears more of Walsh’s mark than it did in 2014.

Shortly after he became mayor Walsh appointed a Chief Diversity Officer tasked with helping city departments find candidates of color to fill job openings. But in the initial formation of the office, there were no Latinos on staff. Earlier this year, Walsh appointed Tania Del Rio as diversity outreach director in the office.

In his remarks, Walsh highlighted efforts his administration has made, including the creation of a diversity dashboard, which tracks the city’s workforce by race and rate of pay (the Police and Fire Departments are not on the dashboard) as well as a recent neighborhood career fair that attracted 94 percent people of color.

The Office of Diversity has instituted an alert system for city departments engaged in the hiring process, Walsh said.

“If the applicant pool is too imbalanced, our Office of Diversity is immediately notified so they can do targeted outreach to make sure whatever job is posted in this city builds opportunity,” he said.

GBLN member Ivan Espinoza-

Madrigal said efforts to include more Latinos in city government will have to be deliberate and sustained.

“There is no silver bullet for this,” he told the Banner. “It has to be incremental steps across the board. Every small step matters. In the Police Department, the Fire Department, the public schools, in City Hall — collectively the small steps will make a difference.”

Under the Walsh admin-

istration, 90 percent of new firefighters and 75 percent of new police officers have been white. Espinoza-Madrigal, who is executive director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, was scheduled to hold a forum Tuesday on Police and Fire Department hiring with the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, the Boston Society of Vulcans and the Boston branch of the NAACP.

When asked about the scant representation of Latinos on boards and commissions — just 5.1 percent — Walsh questioned the importance of the bodies.

“There’s 350 boards and commissions in this city,” he said. “We probably have way too many boards and commissions in this city. I’ll make recommendations, but I’m not going to be fine-tuning every single board and commission.”

The report, authored by Jennings, Miren Uriarte and Jen Douglas, listed several key finding:

• There is no particular effort to increase Latino leadership as part of governing in a way that can better address the challenges facing Latino communities. Nor are there explicit strategies in place to support existing Latino appointees in adopting an advocacy role or becoming active representatives of Latino communities

• Latino appointees in Boston are few in number relative to the presence of Latinos in the population. Among executive positions, an increase from five to seven Latinos executives was achieved, largely through the presence of a concentration of Latino leaders in the Health and Human Services cabinet.

• There are no Latino leaders in the critical areas of education and economic development and just one working in the areas of housing and land use. On boards and commissions, the story is of a small number of Latino appointees spread thinly across a minority of entities. While Latinos are dotted among a substantial number of managerial entities, they have scant presence on regulatory and fund-allocating bodies.

• Just one of the Latinos currently in an executive position in the City has responsibility over substantive work related to housing, and no Latinos oversee work in the areas of education and economic development.

Walsh warned against an adversarial approach to diversifying city government.

“What we don’t need is people pointing fingers at each other,” he said. “I think it’s important for us now, at this particular moment in time, that we have an opportunity to work together, to move forward, to advance this report. I ask people here today, as we move forward, let’s not turn on each other. Let’s work together to make sure we continue to advance the needs of the people in our city.”