Why do we continue to tolerate such harsh disparities?
Several months ago, in one of the earliest “Anti-Poverty Soldier” columns to appear in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, I discussed the glaring disparities that plague people of color in Minnesota, particularly African Americans. What makes these disparities especially troublesome is that Minnesota consistently rates at or near the top of all 50 states in a myriad of quality of life measures.
Consider the issue of health, for example, as the United Health Foundation ranks Minnesota the sixth healthiest state in America. Minnesota also fares quite well in the arena of education. In fact, in recent years Minnesota students have ranked number one in ACT scores and second only to Massachusetts in mathematics and science test scores based on the Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI).
Economically speaking, the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis cited Minnesota as the state with the fifth-fastest growing economy in the nation. Forbes called Minnesota the eighth best state for business, noting that it was the “biggest gainer” among all states during the previous 12 months.
Furthermore, in November of this year Forbes graded Minnesota’s economic climate as the seventh-best in America and ranked Minnesota second among all 50 states in terms of its “overall quality of life.” Finally, the Center for American Progress and its Half in Ten Campaign report that in 2014 the overall poverty rate in Minnesota is the seventh-lowest in America at just over 11 percent.
Nevertheless, while the Center for American Progress cites Minnesota’s low total poverty, it notes that the poverty rate among African Americans in Minnesota is nearly 38 percent. In addition, the Center further reports that other racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota share similar poverty rates at or nearly 30 percent.
We all recognize that racial disparities exist in every corner of the nation. After all, the design of this nation was based on the establishment of such disparities, which buoyed the American empire from the colonization of its native population through two-and-a-half centuries of slavery; from the period of Reconstruction through the Jim Crow South and de facto segregation in the North. Though Civil Rights, Black Power, and other critical social movements have yielded tremendous gains, disparities still persist.
Yet why in Minnesota — one of the healthiest, most educated, and economically vibrant states in American — do racial disparities persist at disconcerting levels? I am reminded of a Children’s Defense Fund report from a few years back that addressed the issue of poverty among America’s Black children. The study revealed that of the 33 states with a large enough Black population to provide a reliable sample, Minnesota’s poverty rate for Black children was the fourth-worst in the nation, only better than Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Now consider that in 2014, the Center for American Progress reported that in terms of overall poverty, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi respectively rank 34th, 49th and 50th in the United States. So while Minnesota’s total poverty rate is one of the lowest in the nation, its poverty rate for Black children is one of the highest and sits among the two states which have the highest total poverty in all of America.
Although, I posed this question before, I must again ask ‘What does this say about us as Minnesotans?”
As noted above, Forbes recently ranked Minnesota second in terms of its “overall quality of life.” Thus, Forbes is essentially suggesting that Minnesota is the second-best state in America for people to live. Ironically, and by stark contrast, the financial news site 24/7 Wall Street just tagged Minnesota as the second-worst state for African Americans to live in a December 2014 report.
In its report, 24/7 Wall Street utilized 12 measures to determine livability conditions and opportunities for African Americans, with only Wisconsin faring worse than Minnesota. Rhode Island, Illinois and Pennsylvania rounded out the top five worst states for African Americans. Among the metrics that helped to rank Minnesota the second-worst state for African Americans were its low Black homeownership rate, high incarceration rate, high unemployment, and low median household income.
The report revealed that the median household income for African American families in Minnesota is less than half that of Whites and well below the national average. 24/7 Wall Street also noted that Black Minnesotans were nearly five times less likely than their White counterparts to have health insurance and more than three times less likely to own their own homes, a rate that is double that of Americans as a whole.
Consider how great the disparities in Minnesota must be for the state to regularly receive such lofty marks for its livability in spite of how poorly African Americans and other Minnesotans of color score on those same measures. And how do we as Minnesotans — with our progressive political tradition and reputation as one of the most philanthropic states in America — continue to tolerate this inequity?