Illinois business execs: “Place emphasis where there is greatest need”
More equitable investments in Black & Brown children’s well-being can boost workforce, economic outcomes
Some terms have become so commonplace, it’s helpful to pause and examine what they really mean, Joshua Gunn observed at a virtual event for the release of a new ReadyNation Illinois report.
“In 2020 and 2021, the word ‘equity’ is thrown around a lot. But, if we really understand what equity means and what it requires, it requires us to place emphasis in the places where there is the greatest need,” said Gunn, President of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and Peoria CEO Council.
“And in this case, the data tells us it’s very clear the greatest need — in terms of kindergarten readiness, and really across a number of different measures—is in Black and Brown communities in the state of Illinois, and the United States of America.”
Accordingly, this new report details how children of color are disproportionately starting school behind their white classmates in vital skills, and too often remaining behind. Furthermore, the employment rates and compensation averages of the Black and Brown segments of our workforce consistently lag behind those of their white counterparts.
As emphasized in the report, these challenges are related. The research-proven answers to these problems include far stronger investments in children’s well-being at the beginning of the cradle-to-career continuum: greater birth-to-3, preK, and child care opportunities for kids and families of color.
“We all benefit from that,” added Rudy Valdez, Engineering Manager at Kaney Aerospace in Rockford. He noted the interconnected nature of every segment of Illinois’ workforce, one-third of which comprises workers of color. And nearly half of our state’s youngest learners—our workforce of the future—are children of color.
“If we leave any group or groups behind, it weighs everybody down. And aside from not being morally acceptable, it’s not beneficial to us, as a whole,” Valdez said.
“Based on my experience, when we start addressing [early childhood] inequities and finding solutions and bringing everybody back to where we should be, to par, that’s when we’re really going to take off and grow as a country,” he added.
“We need to help all our state’s kids do better—and we need to particularly re-double our focus on assisting these children who are most in need of a boost,” agreed Joni Duncan, who has more than 25 years of human resources experience in the Chicago health care sector. “Research and experience help to point the way, as our report relates.”
Manufacturing exec Lisa Savegnago—who is President and Owner of Nameplate & Panel Technology in Carol Stream—noted a number of the policy priorities that ReadyNation backs. Several key on better support of the early childhood workforce, which is heavily reliant upon women of color.
Improving equity in early childhood opportunities is also a core aim of the FY22 state-budget priorities that nearly 100 business leaders recently conveyed in this letter to Illinois leaders.
For highlights of the event, as well as a full video of the panel discussion, see the two videos below: