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Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom and Embracing Opportunities

June 19, 2024

Unlocking Economic Opportunities for Older Rural Workers of Color

In the rural South, older workers of color represent an untapped reservoir of talent and experience. However, systemic barriers such as poverty and discrimination have historically hindered their ability to fully contribute to the workforce. The commemoration of Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery, serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for freedom and racial justice faced by this community. By addressing these challenges and creating opportunities, we can harness the invaluable skills and perspectives that older workers of color bring to the table.

Portrait of smiling elderly waiter looking at camera

Understanding Rural Workers by the Numbers

Empowering Local Talent: Closing the Rural Skills Gap

For many rural communities, persistent labor shortages and skills gaps pose significant challenges to business growth and economic development. According to a Federal Reserve survey, nearly 60% of rural firms faced hiring difficulties in 2022, with many struggling to find qualified workers with the necessary skills and experience.

This shortage of skilled labor has far-reaching consequences:

  • Lost Business Opportunities: 43% of rural firms reported losing business or orders due to labor shortages.
  • Inability to Meet Demand: Nearly half (48%) were unable to meet existing demand for their products or services.
  • Outsourcing: To compensate, 30% of rural firms had to outsource work, potentially leading to job losses in local communities.

However, this challenge also presents a unique opportunity to empower local talent and create pathways out of poverty.

Tapping into Underutilized Talent Pools

Over 27 million people in the U.S. are considered “hidden workers,” a term that includes those who may lack formal education, come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or face health challenges. Many rural communities, particularly those with predominantly Black populations, have faced systemic barriers to quality education and job training. By investing in workforce development programs and bringing skills training directly to these communities, rural firms can tap into a valuable pool of experienced and motivated workers.

Some benefits to consider are:

Empowering older workers of color, who have faced a lifetime of employment barriers, can be particularly impactful. Their wealth of experience and dedication can help fill critical skills gaps, while providing economic opportunities and pathways to financial stability. In addition, by championing corporate citizenship in rural communities, businesses can help weave a brighter, more cohesive tapestry for America: mending the divides and fostering unity in a diverse national fabric.

Expanding Business Opportunities

By closing the skills gap and engaging local talent, rural firms can unlock new business opportunities and meet growing demand without the need for outsourcing. This not only supports local job creation but also fosters economic growth and diversification within rural communities.

Investing in workforce development, improving infrastructure, and promoting economic diversification can create more employment opportunities and attract a younger, skilled workforce to rural areas, further strengthening the local talent pipeline.

A Win-Win Solution

Empowering local talent, particularly in underserved communities, presents a win-win solution for rural firms and workers alike. Rural businesses can address their labor and skills shortages, while providing economic opportunities and pathways out of poverty for local residents. By working together, rural communities can unlock their full potential and drive sustainable economic growth.

This article is part of our series on rural workers. Also check out Bridging the Rural Employment Divide: The Role of Rural Colleges.