New Data Spurs Action on Local Hiring in New Haven

Author: G. Thomas Kingsley
Date Posted: September 3, 2017

The right data, in the right hands, can help advance action on tough issues like under-employment. For 25 years, DataHaven, a nonprofit in New Haven, Connecticut, has been the trusted source for data. DataHaven has been making neighborhood-level data from national sources and local administrative records available and helps community organizations, foundations and local governments use the information for community building, policymaking and advocacy. But what really sets DataHaven apart is that they also conduct a comprehensive, statewide Community Wellbeing Survey, with a sample of over 16,000 adults. The survey fills in key information gaps that administrative data cannot provide on many social and environmental factors that affect personal well-being.

Data made a difference in the establishment of new workforce development initiatives beginning in 2013. That year, DataHaven put a collection of its indicators from the Community Wellbeing Survey and other sources into a new “Community Index” report and released it with considerable fanfare. Several of the city’s unions and other groups were struck by the high levels of unemployment and other conditions in the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, coupled with the fact that very few living wage-jobs located within the city were held by residents who lived in these neighborhoods. They decided to use this unique data to do something to respond. The activists met with DataHaven to discuss the information in the Index, and ensure they understood it correctly. DataHaven also provided these leaders with additional analysis to clarify the findings in the original report.

One union-affiliated group, New Haven Rising, was especially active. Its organizers used facts from the Community Index in more than 100 presentations to 3,000 community members. The presentations included a pen-and-paper “game,” designed by New Haven Rising, which probed residents’ views about the characteristics of jobs in their community. They also presented the indicators to bolster their case in meetings with major employers. Over the next several years, their leaders have independently re-published the data embedded in their own words, developed new graphics, and used the data at numerous rallies and events.

With enriched information on the issue, many groups began to see the inadequacy of existing efforts by city government, Yale University, hospitals and other local anchor institutions to expand local hiring. One of them was a new coalition on the New Haven Board of Alders (New Haven’s city council). It chose local hiring as one of its three key legislative priorities and launched a working group, dedicating nine months to understanding the un-and under-employment crisis and formulating a plan to address it. At about the same time that New Haven Rising was becoming active, this working group, under the leadership of the Board of Alders, had become the site of negotiations among the city and these anchor institutions resulting in the creation of New Haven Works: “a public/private organization designed to ensure that regional employers and businesses have access to a local talent pool and that qualified pre-screened city residents have access to good jobs.”

After its first year, New Haven Works reported significant progress on building a talent pool and collaborating with participating employers to create access to jobs and career pathways for city residents. A clear sign that the mission was being taken seriously was the willingness of Yale University, late in 2015, to publicly commit to hiring 1,000 New Haven residents into permanent jobs over three years and to report results so they could be held accountable.

DataHaven has remained involved in the New Haven workforce story. For example, it worked with municipal, workforce, and community partners to produce a detailed report on the relationship of transportation and jobs access. DataHaven staff are also continuing to work closely with the City of New Haven and other local partners to help weave all of these diverse sources of information into a broader portrait of change in the city. They believe that doing this work is critical to keeping vital issues alive and at the forefront of the attention of the city’s leaders and citizens.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with New Haven Works. DataHaven is the New Haven partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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