40,000 African Americans left Chicago last year; no jobs a big factor

The mass exodus of African Americans out of Chicago increased last year. The U.S. Census Bureau says 40,000 black residents left town.

Every other group grew in size, especially Latinos.

One big factor: the high unemployment rate among African Americans. A new program hopes to help change that.

After months of hands-on training and classroom instruction, Wesley Mack will soon begin an internship as a robotics technician.

“I feel like I accomplished a whole lot. I’m grateful for it,” Mack said.

Employers from as far away as Ohio and Michigan have already promised to hire graduates. They’re desperate to fill advanced manufacturing jobs that are now going begging. Pay starts at $30,000 to $40,000 and jumps to more than $100,000 a year for those with certain specialized skills.

“The trainees are very surprised, because they are used to making minimum wage in most cases, or not having employment at all,” said vice president of BSD Trista Bonds.

The not-for-profit training program was launched by Rev. Byron Brazier's Arthur Brazier Foundation. JP Morgan Chase recently contributed a half-million dollars. They promise to invest $40 million in Chicago over the next three years, especially in hard-hit African American neighborhoods. The city's black population has fallen by 400,000 since 1980.

“We’ve shifted a lot of our focus over the last few years to ways in which we can create more economic opportunity for more people and the neighborhoods that have just not had the kind of investment that they need to grow,” said Peter Scher of JP Morgan Chase.

The plan is for these machines and this factory to be fully operational by the middle of next month, producing these knives, forks and plastic spoons that will be initial product here. It’s also when they will begin recruiting the next 40 students for a class whose studies will begin in late spring.

BSD Industries says it has room for 40 trainees in its next class. It takes about 13 months to complete it.

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