Midwest among the worst place for blacks to live, new report says
Iowa's Legislature only has four people of color, hear from them about how that feels. The Des Moines Register
Midwestern cities and states, including Iowa, are among the worst places for African Americans to live, according to a new study authored by a University of Iowa historian.
The report released by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington found that a number of factors — historical, economic, demographic and political — have shaped patterns of racial disparity and race relations in the Midwest.
It revealed findings similar to those in a study titled "The State of Black Polk County," released in April 2017 by a coalition of community organizations, that said racial disparities had created a "tale of two cities" between black and white Iowans.
The author of the new report, Colin Gordon, said that "while many Midwestern cities appear in viral 'best places to live' lists, they are also among the very worst places to live for African Americans."
"These patterns of stark discrimination and vast racial disparities have long-lasting impacts on families of color in the Midwest," he said.
For example, the report found that in 2016 — when Des Moines was named the 11th best place to live in the United States — it also was named the third-worst city for African Americans.
Last year, 24/7 Wall Street named the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area as the worst place for African Americans in the U.S. Gordon's study found that earnings for black metro area residents were 46.8% of those for white residents, and that African Americans there were far more likely to be unemployed.
Gordon's study, "Race in the Heartland: Equity, Opportunity, and Public Policy in the Midwest," also found that:
- Six Midwestern states, including Iowa, suspend black students at more than five times the rate of white students. Iowa has the sixth worst ratio of out-of-school suspensions between black and white students in the U.S.
- Ten Midwestern states, including Iowa, had the largest ratio between black and white unemployment in 2017. Iowa had the seventh highest ratio in the nation.
- Every Midwestern state imprisons African Americans at more than five times the rate of whites. Iowa has the third largest ratio in the nation and the second highest in the Midwest, behind Wisconsin.
- At every income level, African Americans are less likely to receive preventive health care and more likely to receive lower-quality care.
In his study, Gordon offered a slate of policy recommendations to achieve racial equity in the Midwest, though he writes the recommendations "are not particularly surprising or novel, and draw upon the research (and successes) of many state and national groups."
They include investing in public education, raising wages for all workers, addressing labor market discrimination, adopting paid family leave and low-cost child care, and ensuring adequate funding for civil rights enforcement.
Funding for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission was cut 37% over a 10-year period ending in 2018, according to the study.
Deidre DeJear, who serves as a consultant for The Directors Council, the local nonprofit that organized the report on "The State of Black Polk County," said the new report "is more evidence that our systems are dismantling communities right before our eyes. This work is not seasonal. Our systems are in need of major repair."
DeJear said that since the release of her organization's report two years ago, working groups have met to create action plans aimed at lifting up black residents in employment, housing, small business support and health care.
"We are in the process of creating a blueprint that will address not everything in that report, because it's pretty comprehensive, but address some of the data points in a way that we're providing a strategy to address some of the challenges we have in the black community," she said.
The group hopes to release those action plans in the next few months.
Kim Norvell covers growth and development for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8259.
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