Race bias runs deep in Minnesota

New Met Council report exposes the extent of systemic biases


Metro Council District 7 member Gary Cunningham
Gary Cunningham

A new Metropolitan Council report reaffirms that the 16-county Twin Cities metro area has the largest disparities across many areas between Whites and people of color in Minnesota. The study “was a response to Council members’ questions to get a better understanding on racial and ethnic disparities in the region,” said Met Council researcher Matt Schroeder last week during an April 12 local press call that included the MSR.

Schroeder added that the report provided information on whether or not these disparities primarily result from “demographic differences, or is it actually race and ethnicity, and everything that goes along with that.” The difference between the Met Council report and previous reports is that it shows “something is going on in the system,” added Council Member Gary Cunningham, who also spoke to reporters on last week’s call.

Schroeder’s report asked, “What would disparities look like if White residents and residents of color had the same demographic profile?” and used “statistical models” on employment rates, average hourly wages and homeownership rates. “There are differences between people of color and White people and these differences matter to these outcomes,” such as homeowner rates and lower incomes, he said.

The report finds that even after adjusting “for a broad set of demographic characteristics, substantial disparities” still exist between Blacks and Whites in employment (70 percent to 79 percent respectively), average wages ($20.50 to $23.80 respectively) and homeownership (48 percent to 76 percent respectively). There are also disparities in wages and homeownership between Whites and Latinos and an employment disparity between Asians and Whites.

“Yes, race and ethnicity still have something to do with it,” said Schroeder. “It’s not just demographics,” and these disparities “predated” the influx of immigrants to the Twin Cities’ area. There are also “wide disparities” within age groups.

It’s not just criminal justice issues, continued Cunningham, who was critical of the April 17 Star Tribune published story in which he was quoted regarding the Met Council report. “I thought it was somewhat misleading,” he noted. “The reporter tried to equate criminal justice issues to the outcomes we see. We don’t know if that is a factor or not but a supposition. But it is a subtle undertone that that issue is the cause of the differences in the data, and I really take an issue with that.

“Clearly racial segregation has a lot to do with some of the outcomes we see, by concentrating people by race, but [also] really [important is] how opportunity is structured,” explained Cunningham. “If opportunity is structured where I can’t get to the opportunity like other people in the region can…or I can’t have access to jobs or economic opportunity.

“This data certainly shows that it is not just education — [it] has some impact — but there are all these other systems that are operating to maintain a racialized system for people of color within our natural area. There are systems that work together to create this dynamic…that creates these outcomes in the state of Minnesota.”

When asked how the study should be used, Cunningham told the MSR, “I think the readers — and the public in general, really — should get from it that there are structures and systems that are operating, and in those structures and systems race is a factor. It has created ‘racialized institutions’ that actually create differentials and outcomes based on a person’s skin color, particularly for African Americans.

“It is not just because of someone’s educational differences or someone came into the country as an immigrant,” Cunningham continued. “Race actually matters in providing opportunity for people in our community.”

The Council “internally” in recent years has done extensive work in looking into disparities, said Cunningham, adding that it has been more aware that conscious and unconscious biases can play a role in their decision-making and policymaking. “But the Council by itself can’t do this. All the jurisdictions and the state of Minnesota have to do something about this.”

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton last week in a released statement applauded the Met Council report and hinted that it further supports his $150 million legislative proposal to reduce racial and economic disparities. “I urge all legislators to read this study and commit themselves to addressing these needs,” said the governor.

Cunningham added that it’s not just the governor or the legislators’ problem “to begin the steps to address these issues of unequal outcomes for people of color across the board.” He told the MSR, “My hope is that all of us Minnesotans — not just the legislature — can see the data. I also believe that citizens and people that care actually need to ensure that these issues are on their agenda and that something this year actually gets done.

“It’s not just about Black people or Latino people or Asian people; it’s really about all of us. It’s really about will we be able to maintain our quality of life here in Minnesota — particularly for Whites — if in fact we don’t do something to address these underlying disparities for African Americans and other people of color: Native Americans, Latinos and Asians.

“If we can’t address these issues, then our competitive advantage to compete nationally becomes a problem,” explained Cunningham. “It becomes a problem filling jobs, etc. This is not just an altruistic interest for these issues; it’s in everyone’s interest to get serious about addressing these issues within the community.”

Cunningham said the report didn’t cover every possible outcome. “I don’t think any study [has] ever done that. I think this study points us at some things we can do in changing some of the dynamics. It also points to really looking at how we deal with conscious and unconscious bias as we make decisions both individually and collectively.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.