Officials in a key state agency recently held more than a dozen “listening sessions” with unemployed Iowans and their advocates.

Iowa Workforce Development director Beth Townsend says this is their goal: “We want to reduce unemployment rates for our minority communities by five percent in five years.”

Townsend and her staff met with more than 300 residents of Black Hawk, Dubuque, Polk and Pottawattamie Counties. Their list of barriers to employment included lack of transportation and affordable child care, along with language challenges and a lack of marketable skills.

“Those are issues that we need to continue to address and we hope that our strategic plan will be able to do what we can,” Townsend says. “I think raising awareness throughout the state and working with employers to address these barriers is a step in the right direction and, hopefully, will help us make a difference in terms of our minority unemployment rates.”

If the state’s economy is to keep growing, it’s crucial to find and train more people to fill job openings, according to Townsend.

“When you have a 14 percent unemployment rate in our African American community, that is a big pool of employees that we could get upskilled and into the workforce,” Townsend says.

The state’s overall unemployment rate is three percent, but more than five percent of Asian Americans and eight percent of Latinos in Iowa are unemployment. The unemployment rate among Native Americans is even higher. It’s 11 percent.