Use infrastructure money to get more women, people of color into trades

The MWRD’s diverse leadership provides unique perspectives into how regional governments can integrate gender and racial equity into career pipelines and infrastructure projects.

SHARE Use infrastructure money to get more women, people of color into trades
U.S. President Joe Biden alongside Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker tours the Clayco construction site in Elk Grove Village Oct. 2021.

President Joe Biden and Gov. J.B. Pritzker tours the Clayco construction site in Elk Grove Village in Oct. 2021.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Among working women in the U.S, nearly half are concentrated in low-wage jobs. Despite being more likely to have a four-year college degree than men, women overall still earn only 84% of men’s pay. Disparities are greater for women of color: Black and Latina women earning only 64% and 57% respectively.

Enter COVID-19. The last two years have deepened gender inequalities in the workforce. Women face greater unemployment and increasing domestic labor burdens.

Solutions to these systemic inequities might be closer than you would expect. With $17 billion in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, Illinois has a once-in-a-generation chance to make this stimulus a powerful force of equity. As this federal funding reaches water, transportation and climate resilience industries, policy makers can increase access to in-demand careers that support community prosperity via job stability and financial growth.

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At the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, we clean wastewater and manage stormwater in Cook County. Our daily work is possible because of infrastructure projects, such as TARP, flood control projects and our water reclamation plants. Agencies like ours have the power to advance policies and programs that expand access to engineering, innovation, entrepreneurship and construction opportunities for women and communities of color.

Uniquely, the MWRD Board of Commissioners is one of the only legislative bodies in Illinois with an elected majority of women of color. Our diverse leadership provides a unique perspective into how regional governments can integrate gender and racial equity into career pipelines and infrastructure projects. The investments we make are in the workforce of tomorrow.

Affirmative action goals have helped increase diversity in skilled labor, thus narrowing wage gaps. Recently, Illinois began working to expand access to apprenticeships, a crucial step to diversifying our infrastructure workforce. Only 0.6% of construction apprentices are reported as either Black or Latina women. Governments must act fast to give women and communities of color a chance to benefit from the infrastructure funding.

We are at a crossroads. We cannot afford to be shortsighted. Now is the time to build a new economy by breaking glass ceilings for Illinois women, communities of color and people who have historically been underrepresented in the trades. By being strategic, we can increase prosperity and provide life-changing opportunities.

To honor Women’s History Month is to address systemic disparities. Governments can drive equitable outcomes for generations to come.

Kim du Buclet and Eira Corral-Sepulveda, MWRD Board of Commissioners

Standard time is way to go

The editorial on the U.S. Senate’s recent passing of the bipartisan Sunshine Protection Act is spot on. Yes, stop changing the clocks, but keep them at standard time. The mornings would be difficult in the winter months with daylight saving time.

John Petersen, Belmont Heights

Year-round daylight saving time ideal

I was shocked to read the recent Sun-Times’ editorial against year-round daylight saving time. It is something that I have been passionately working on for years. Why? Because our long, cold winters are bad enough without it getting dark at 4:30 p.m. Yes, it’s a little darker in the morning, but mornings are always dark in the winter.

The extra daylight at the end of the day makes it safer to walk and drive, easier to shop and generally lifts the spirits. It’s the time when more people are out and about.

My “circadian biology” does just fine with DST.

Carol Kraines, Deerfield

Smollett betrayed real victims

If I never hear or see another article about “Jessie” Smollett (I’m behind comedian Chris Rock, who said the “Empire” actor doesn’t deserve the “u” in his name ) that will be just fine. His lies were a betrayal to me and all the real victims of racist violence. Because of his actions, the alt-right uses him as a weapon to negate legitimate claims.

When a successful African American commits a crime motivated by greed or self-aggrandizement, I have no desire to lessen their consequences. If they are stupid enough to believe they can get away with crimes their white peers commit with apparent impunity, fool on them. 

One thing every Black person must know is that we cannot afford stupidity. My generation was taught, “If you find a fool, bump his head.” (For the uninitiated, that means fools deserve whatever they get.) I don’t care whether Smollett serves time in jail, but he has to pay the city back for the money incurred because of his fraud.

Muriel Balla, Hyde Park

High cannabis taxes

Tom Schuba’s article “High$ and Low$” says that pot sales have fallen sharply and consumers are being pushed to the illicit market. That is for one reason only: the cost, and the hefty prices have nothing to do with lack of supply and limited retail outlets as stated by cannabis consultant Andy Seeger. The pre-tax retail price is on par with the illegal street price of cannabis, until you add in the recreational cannabis state and local taxes. The higher the THC level, the higher the tax.

Theoretically, legalized cannabis should have ended the illicit market but because of the overly greedy tax grab, it has energized the illicit market.

George Recchia, Oak Park

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