County work force racially balanced

December 17, 2008
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Over the last 10 years, Kent County hit peak employment in 2002 when the county had 1,970 workers. Then the state's economy began to turn sour and five years later, the county's labor force fell by 7.3 percent, to 1,826 workers in 2007.

But despite that drop, the county still managed to maintain a 2007 work force that is racially descriptive of the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Abstract, which was released in 2000 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Our employment remains steady and representative of our labor pool," said Darius Quinn, Kent County human resources manager.

Among six racial- and national-origin categories, the county met or exceeded the MSA standards in five — only falling short on the number of Hispanics employed in its 26 departments and agencies. (See chart.)

"I'm very proud of the fact that we've improved on minority hiring, even though we still have to work on the Hispanic piece," said County Commissioner Paul Mayhue.

Kent County only had one less Hispanic employee in 2007 than five years earlier. But with 144 fewer employees in 2007, the percentage of Hispanics working at the county rose to 3.2 percent from 3 percent in 2002, largely because Hispanics comprised nearly 8.5 percent of the new hires at the county in 2006.

The county has had an outreach initiative to bring more Hispanics into the fold for years and the effort has paid off somewhat. In 1997, Hispanics accounted for 2.4 percent of the county's work force with 42 employees. Ten years later, there were 58 Hispanic workers at the county, down slightly from the 62 in 2006.

"We have experienced a high amount of turnover in minorities due to retirements," said Quinn.

African-Americans are well represented at the county, making up 10 percent of the work force, a number nearly twice their representation in the MSA. Asians and American Indians employed at the county closely reflect the MSA percentages, while whites are slightly under their MSA number.

Minority races, which account for 14 percent of the MSA population, made up 11 percent of officials and administrators at the county in 2007; 13 percent of professionals; 13 percent of technicians; 16 percent of protective services workers; 37 percent of paraprofessionals, 15 percent of office and clerical staffers; 5 percent of skilled craft employees; and 21 percent of maintenance and service personnel.

"I was proud to see the administrative office become diversified on a professional level," said Mayhue.

Last year, Mayhue, an African-American, was disappointed that minorities were only 5 percent of those employed at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in 2006, and he asked Quinn if airport management had made any strides to improve on that number. Quinn, also an African-American, said the airport had increased minority representation to 7.5 percent and was diversifying its work force.

County Commissioner Brandon Dillon asked Quinn why the county compares its work force to the MSA racial composition instead of to the county's. Quinn said the county uses the MSA for comparisons because some of its employees live in other counties.

County Commissioner Carol Hennessy asked if Proposition 2, a 2006 state measure that banned racial preference in public-sector hiring, has affected the county's effort to diversify its work force. "It has had minimal impact," said Quinn.

County government on track racially

The 2007 labor force at Kent County was largely reflective of the racial composition that makes up the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Abstract, which includes Muskegon and Holland. In 2007, the county had 1,826 employees in its 26 departments and agencies, and was only lacking in the number of Hispanics it employed that year.

Here is a percentage comparison of the county's labor force by race and national origin with the racial distribution in the MSA from the 2000 U.S. Census.

  American
Indian

  Asain

   Black

  Hispanic

  White

  Other

Kent County Employees

0.7%

1.2%

10.1%

3.2%

84%

0.7%

Grand Rapids MSA

0.5%

1.4%

5.5%

5.5%

86%

1.1%

Note: Percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth.
Source: Kent County Equal Employment Opportunity Report 2006& 2007, December 2008

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