You don’t need to look very far to understand that, despite all of the progress and ongoing economic development being made in our region, Buffalo is still beset by pockets of poverty. The latest statistics show that Buffalo remains the third poorest city in the county. In addition, recent labor market studies of the Buffalo-Niagara region indicate that 20 percent of the total current jobs in the market (an estimated 137,000 jobs) will be impacted by retirements over the next decade, which will impact approximately $6.9 billion in wages. Unfortunately, there are currently not enough unemployed and emerging workers to fill those jobs.
These numbers are connected to the fact that thousands of Western New York residents are underemployed or not working the type of jobs that can be classified as living wage careers. Poverty is an extremely difficult problem that requires special attention paid to the different reasons why it exists. Education, workforce development, transportation, and healthcare are all factors that play a role in how the cycles of poverty continue to hold back good people just looking for a break.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz recently introduced an executive order that should help employ local residents in positions that have the potential to develop into careers that pay a living wage and provide hope for those determined to escape poverty and become contributing members to our region’s thriving economic success.
The first source hiring initiative for county construction contracts is something that will provide living wage construction jobs. I was thrilled to witness our county executive sign the executive order last month because I am confident that it will provide a strategic plan for low-income residents of Erie County to a career that they can be proud of and will help support working families.
Organized labor supports the first source executive order, which says 20 percent of work hours on construction contracts must be worked by individuals who reside in the poorest zip codes or who are otherwise categorized as a disadvantaged worker. We will see the continued rebuilding of our infrastructure and the birth of brand new projects and those tasks will be performed by existing local residents already in the marketplace who are underemployed and searching for opportunities to better utilize their individual skill sets.
Our county executive and his economic development team should take a bow for introducing this executive order. Our long-term vision from the perspective of unions based here in Western New York is that this policy will help introduce hard-working individuals into the trades who come from diverse populations. It will also help bring living wage job opportunities to many of the younger people in our population and will be consistent with our ongoing mission to guarantee decent wages, quality working conditions and equal opportunity for all.
Richard Lipsitz is President of the WNY Area Labor Federation.