Sunday, November 15, 2015

Worst Places to be Black

A brilliant, eye-opening article in the generally excellent Dollars & Sense magazine this month uses several indicators to show that the worst place in America to be African American is currently, somewhat surprisingly, Wisconsin.  It echoes earlier reports, but still runs counter to many general prejudices.

Though the article describes some history, of discrimination and police abuse, it relies most and most appropriately on socioeconomic rates in which the state is worst among the 50 (incarceration, child well-being, child poverty, unemployment) or close to it (homeownership, teen pregnancy, poverty).  And in this, some related surprises emerge -- besides the fact that Misissippi isn't #1 (worst) in any of these!  (I know, right?)

There are other indicators, too, such as graduation rates, which might surprise you.

OK, so Mississippi appears to be right up there (to the bad) for most other indicators (although #38 for black incarceration and #46 for black home ownership).  New York is worst in African American home ownership (which I might have guessed after working for ACORN there) and teen pregnancy.  Minnesota has the worst African American poverty rate.  Eleven to 12 percent of all Minnesotans live in poverty, hitting children hardest of course (around 15%).  But these statistics are all the more disturbing because Minnesota actually has one of the best poverty rates in the nation for white folks (about 6% to 8%), which of course means - hold on this is almost like math - black poverty would have to be extra bad to jack up the overall poverty rate so much.  And it is (around 38%)!

Put this together with Mr. Loewen's work on sundown towns in your smug Northern pipe and smoke it!  But seriously, Loewen finds a lot of racism in the South, too - because there just is a lot there - so don't celebrate too fast, Southern folks!

However, I want to say: rate is not everything.  You may have noticed that Wisconsin and Minnesota are unlikely candidates for this dubious honor due to the fact that, well, they just don't have a lot of black folks.  So, you may well ask (and if you refrain, I will) where is most of the black poverty?  You know, in terms of absolute numbers?  Well, as you should already know, the poorest parts of the country are also mostly, but not always, the blackest

Por ejemplo, using only slightly out of date population figures (2010 Census), Mississippi has substantially more African Americans living in poverty (412,000+) than the total black population of Minnesota (312,000), where the black poverty rate is worst.  (Or, using the 2014 Census estimated populations, 431,000 Mississippi African Americans in poverty vs. 382,000 total black Minnesotans -- about 145,000 in poverty.)

But aren't most poor people white?  Sure.  But most people in the US are white anyway, so that shouldn't surprise anybody.  Even most welfare goes to white folks.  So, back to rates

African Americans are 'disproportionately' poor, 'overrepresented' among the poor (and incarcerated, etc.) - and the inequality is actually growing in many ways.  None of this measures how it feels to be African American in any of these areas, of course, or how many people say nasty things, or good things, lie to you, laugh at you, look at you cross-eyed, etc.  But racism may be deeper in some places, broader in others.  Apparently, everywhere needs work. 

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