[daily camera]January 21, 2013
Losing Ground: Manufacturing downturn hurts minorities disproportionately
As Colorado loses blue-color jobs, disparities increase http://www.dailycamera.com/state-west-news/ci...
In the 1960s, the giant CF&I steel plant on the southern end of Pueblo was the economic driving engine and racial equalizer for Colorado's southernmost major city.
Former Pueblo City Council President Ray Aguilera, in his early 20s during the mill's last heyday as a large-scale employer, recalls wives dropping their husbands -- Latinos, Italians Slovenians -- at the tunnel entrance leading under the roadway to the 7,000 lucrative jobs on the other side.
The work often did not require college degrees or even high school diplomas.
"Why would anybody want to go college when you can go out to the mill and make (today's equivalent of)$60,000,$70,000 a year," Aguilera said.
The towering steel mill stacks and their billowing clouds of smoke were symbols of a unique prosperity, one in which the smelter was a melting pot in more ways than one.
When the city's soldiers, sailors and Marines returned from War World II, they all expected a fair shake from Pueblo's major employer.
Soon, the mill's segregated showers for whites and Latinos disappeared.
"So in 1945, things began to change even in the mill, CF&I," Aguilera said.
"(Latinos) began to get good jobs. This was the beginning of the transformation of Pueblo, this convergence. I thought Pueblo was Shangri-la. It was a period of prosperity for all these guys that worked in the mill."
High wages and generous overtime led to Latino families buying homes, sometimes even cabins and boats for family vacations, said former state Sen. Abel Tapia, a Pueblo native.
One in five Pueblo workers held manufacturing jobs in 1970, according to Census data.
Two-thirds of Pueblo County's Latino households owned their own homes in 1970, according to an I-News analysis of six decades of U.S. Census data.
Latino families, on average, earned more than 80 percent of the countywide average that same year.
"It was a life to go for," Tapia said.
"Then all of a sudden, it kind of went away."
The changing economic and political environment also took its toll on federal government jobs, another major source of employment for minority workers during the civil rights era as a result of affirmative action policies.
Those jobs have also dwindled in scope over the past four decades.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said all presidential administrations since Reagan have emphasized shrinking the size of the federal government.
"Frankly, that trend continued under Bush, under Clinton, under Bush and under Obama," Webb said.
"Each one is proud of talking about how they've shrunk the size of federal government."
With the shrinking came less focus on affirmative action, Webb said.
The intent and thrust of affirmative action, as envisioned by President John F. Kennedy in an executive order in 1961 and strengthened and expanded by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, has clearly been diminished with passing decades.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that affirmative action for minorities is unfair if it leads to reverse discrimination against the majority.
Some states, including California, voted to ban affirmative action programs.
However, Colorado voters rejected such a ban in 2008.