When a new industry arrives into a town, it sometimes comes with the implied promise of better living conditions for the locals in exchange for their cooperation.
Except, new study shared exclusively with Floodlight reveals that white people are more likely to get hired in majority-Black areas in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” due of the region’s high concentration of polluting industries. Along the Gulf Coast of Texas, where the majority of the workforce is white, similar inequalities can be found in minority-dominated towns.
Researchers were lead by Kimberly Terrell, director of community engagement and staff scientist at the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic. “If one group gets all the pollution and another group gets all the jobs, it’s not really a trade-off anymore,” she said.
The largest gap occurred in St. John the Baptist Parish, which is home to the United States’ third-largest oil refinery as well as factories producing neoprene and absorbent material for diapers.According to preliminary data from Tulane, while making up over 70% of the working-age population, people of color make up only 28% of the manufacturing workforce. When looking at higher-paying occupations like management, sales, and technology positions, the gap widens even further. Only 19% of the jobs are held by people of color.
Retired Black educator Stephanie Aubert of St. John the Baptist Parish stated, “I would hear the people here say, ‘These plants keep coming but they’re not hiring Black people.'” They’d rather recruit someone from out of town than us. They treat us like that all the time.
According to the data, whereas blacks make up 59% of the working-age population in Jefferson County, Texas, they only make up 28% of the manufacturing workforce.
Those who work in the industry who answered to Floodlight said they are making efforts to be more inclusive. The economic development agency in Louisiana, which offers companies attractive incentives to set up shop there, claims that it does not have any racial or geographic preferences when recruiting.
People like Anne Rolfes, director of the non-profit environmental advocacy group Louisiana Bucket Brigade, say they’ve “known for a long time” that the communities hit hardest by industry’s toxic air emissions and other health risks aren’t the ones who end up with the jobs that the industry and state leaders promise when they announce new projects.
According to Rolfes, “the jobs claim is fundamental to their very existence.” To paraphrase, “now we have proof, that communities aren’t benefiting from the industry, and are being disproportionately harmed by pollution.”
There are parallel accounts from Texas. Former United Steelworkers Local 13-243 president Darrell Kyle was warned in 2019 that businesses in Beaumont didn’t hire minorities because they often failed aptitude and drug tests. Kyle, an Exxon Mobil employee for 30 years, decided he could be of service. He collaborated with a community organization to help more than 20 persons of color with criminal records or low-income backgrounds obtain the skills they needed to be competitive in the job market and ultimately gain employment at the Exxon Mobil plant in Jefferson County.
Kyle stated, “They didn’t hire any of those people, and none of the people they hired for that mechanical class were from Jefferson County.” It’s a reoccurring problem for these businesses.
When asked for their thoughts on the initiative, Exxon Mobil remained silent.
This report from Tulane University examines publicly accessible data on employment, tax breaks, and harmful air emissions to investigate whether or not there is a correlation between these factors and racial inequalities in the United States. The state of Louisiana was the initial area of study.
According to Terrell, “I was shocked by how consistent the findings were” regarding the discrepancy.
To calculate the percentages of underrepresentation, Terrell used data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the year 2021 with demographic information from the US Census Bureau.Additional unequal Louisiana parishes include:
In East Baton Rouge, minorities account for 55% of the working-age population but only 28% of the manufacturing jobs; in Iberville, minorities account for 51% of the working-age population but only 28% of the manufacturing workforce; in West Baton Rouge, minorities account for 42% of the working-age population but only 24% of the jobs.
People of color made up 71%, 72%, and 55% of the working-age population in Harris, Nueces, and Brazoria counties in Texas, respectively, but only 50%, 53%, and 37% of the manufacturing workforce in the same counties.
They’ll come to your school and have a job fair. Growing up in St. John the Baptist Parish, Jo Banner now co-leads an environmental justice group with her sister, Joy. “But that doesn’t mean they’ll hire you,” she added. A long time ago, Banner was engaged to organize a job fair for the local industry in the parish. Banner found out later that the company only needed to fill two positions, but they were swamped with over 500 applicants. Her word for it was “performative.”
She stated, “I’ve always heard that they’re notorious for not hiring Black people — or not hiring people from the area,” adding that this was confirmed by family members who had worked in the plants.
St. John inhabitants have some of the greatest individual air pollution exposure risks due to the petroleum and chemical industries, according to research conducted by Michael Ash, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Massachusetts. The counties that border the Gulf of Mexico in Texas also have quite high rates.
Gianna St. Julien, a researcher at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, claims that the local industries receive substantial tax benefits. Over the previous 12 years, several industries have been granted tax breaks totaling close to $1 billion.
According to St. Julien, “only 23 new jobs were added to St. John the Baptist during that 12-year span.” The expected tax advantages amount to $34.7 million. just 23 positions are being discussed here.
According to Mark Lorando, a spokesman for Louisiana Economic Development, the state agency in charge of different incentives to entice employers to the state, there are no requirements regarding the racial demographic makeup of an employer’s personnel.
Neither the governor’s office nor the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association replied to requests for comment on the report’s conclusions.
In an email statement, Marathon Petroleum Corp., which has over 900 employees at its Garyville refinery, one of the largest in the country, said that it has donated over $500,000 to local schools in the form of workforce development grants and scholarships for underrepresented students interested in studying STEM subjects.