Widening Black-White income gap bodes ill for all of us
Of particular concern when focusing on this subject matter are the glaring inequities that continue to menace the state’s African American citizens relative to Minnesota’s population as a whole.
Consider for a moment that Minnesota boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Yet the unemployment gap between White and Black Minnesotans remains one of the largest in America.
Likewise, Minnesota has consistently maintained one of the lowest incarceration rates in the United States. Nonetheless, the ratio of Black to White incarceration in Minnesota is among the worst of all 50 states.
Similar trends have persisted for years across a multitude of statistical areas including homeownership, academic achievement, healthcare, affordable housing, and general economic climate. Year after year, in each of these health and wellness categories, Minnesota reliably places at or near the top. Every bit as reliable relative to these same quality-of-life indicators has been the immense gulf between Black and White Minnesota.
Originally, it was not my intention to address the issue of Black-White disparities in this particular column, as I had settled on a different subject altogether. But I am compelled to address some alarming statistics from the recent U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as detailed in the September 17, 2015 edition of the Star Tribune.
This story, written by Star Tribune staff writers John Reinan and Maryjo Webster, notes that the median household income for Black Minnesotans decreased by 14 percent in the last year. Such a precipitous drop in Black household income is no doubt troubling enough on its own. What makes it exceedingly difficult to digest is the fact that household income among Minnesota’s other racial groups during the same 12-month period either remained stable or even rose slightly.
Today, the median annual household income for Blacks in Minnesota ($27,026) is a mere 50 percent of the U.S. median household income and even less, approximately 44 percent, of Minnesota’s median household income. In this state alone, both Asian ($67,944) and White ($64,824) household incomes are roughly two-and-a-half times greater than the median household income for Black residents.
Predictably, this sharp drop in income for Black Minnesotans parallels a noticeable increase in poverty. In just one year the poverty rate for Blacks in this state rose from 33 to 38 percent. In contrast, poverty rates among Hispanics and Whites stayed the same, while poverty among Minnesota’s Asian population actually decreased by four percent over the previous year.
When you couple all of this data with a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that reports nearly one out of every two Black children in Minnesota now lives in poverty, it is clear that gap between White and Black Minnesota continues to swell.
So what are we to make of all of this? Several community leaders have urgently called attention to these most recent reports, and local experts have expressed keen interest in identifying what has caused the recent drop in Black income as household income has otherwise remained stable in both Minnesota and the nation.
But again, let us not forget that even before we process the data that has emerged these past few weeks, the inequality that exists in this state, particularly between its Black and White citizens, is astounding. In the aforementioned Star Tribune article, Steve Hine of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development states that the “gap that we’re facing along racial divides is clearly persisting — and, at first glance, may even be worsening rather than improving as our economy recovers.”
That statement is quite telling. We are told that we are in the midst of an economic recovery in a state that already bests nearly all others in economic security. Thus, one might logically think that economic conditions should be improving for all Minnesotans. And yet, the Black residents in our state are seemingly relegated further and further to the margins, unable to partake of the increasing prosperity that has materialized in Minnesota.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers either as to why these disparities persist and continuously deepen, or how it is that we begin to reverse and ultimately eliminate them. I do, however, know that such answers exist and that the current crisis leaves us with precious little time to do something about it.
Make no mistake — this situation is a calamity in the making. To fix it will require the earnest efforts of community leaders, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, elected officials, concerned citizens, and others including those in the low-income community who have the right to determine their own destiny. The future well-being of our entire community will depend on these efforts.
Clarence Hightower, executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street, St. Paul, MN 55104.
Dr. Clarence Hightower is a visionary leader with more than 37 years of nonprofit
experience in the Twin Cities. He is the current executive director of the Community Action
Partnership of Hennepin County, one of the largest anti-poverty organizations in the area and the state’s largest Energy Assistance program. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.