The healthiest. Tops in education. High quality of life. Minnesota and a fair number of its cities and communities have garnered such labels over the years.
But how about “tops in health coverage disparities” or “educational failure” or “highly skewed incarceration rates”?
It might be a hard pill to swallow, but those negative labels apply just as accurately.
This is the other Minnesota, the one never touted by tourist boards. And its story emerged last week from a report from the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that aims to advance racial, cultural, social and economic justice in Minnesota.
The second Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity (PDF) does two things: First, it compiles data from a range of sources and documents a clear crisis in disparities between Minnesota’s communities of color and the community at large. Second, it notes how Minnesota’s elected leaders have voted on issues relating to racial equity.
Bad grades for Legislature, governor
The report gives the Legislature and the governor a “D” on racial equity in the context of what its author, Jermaine Toney, calls “a growing racial fault line running through our state.”
The report begins by citing demographic realities: By 2030, people of color will represent 22.5 percent of Minnesota’s population (Council on Crime and Justice). (PDF)
Jennifer Godinez echoes the familiar line of the late Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.” She is associate director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and a member of the Racial Equity Working Group, a group of organizations that advised the OAP and reviewed the Report Card. “Prosperity can only occur when disparities are addressed and cultural communities and Native Americans are treated as equal partners in solving these issues, she says.
Those disparities are outlined in the report. Among the most striking:
• While only 5.9 percent of whites lack health insurance, Latinos have an uninsured rate that is nearly six times higher (34 percent) and blacks two times higher (12.8 percent). Meanwhile, 21 percent of American Indians and 9.8 percent of Asian-Pacific Islanders are uninsured. (Minnesota Department of Health) (PDF)
• Although 94 percent of white students graduate from high school, only three-fourths (71 percent) of blacks, and two-thirds (66 percent) of American Indians and Latinos graduate. (Minnesota Department of Education)
• More than one-third of Minnesota’s black children are raised in poverty. The rates for other groups are: 18 percent for Latino and American Indian children, 13 percent for Asian-Pacific Islander children, and 4 percent for white children (Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota) (PDF)
• Blacks are arrested at a rate that is 817 percent higher than whites, and although they make up only 4 percent of the state’s population, they make up roughly one-third (31.7 percent) of the prison population. (Council on Crime and Justice) (PDF)
Spending choices have big impact on communities of color
The study then looks at where lawmakers are spending dollars and how those choices affect communities of color. Godinez says, “The Report Card is now asking — let’s look at policymaking with a vision for closing disparities for greater equity — let’s not let these gaps persist by ignoring how policy-making influences these issues.”
Toney states in the report, “Whether intended or not, the decline in public investment in equity and opportunity is directly aligned with the rise in racial diversity in the state.” He notes that this is not a phenomenon unique to Minnesota: “Nationally, economists and social scientists have documented a strong relationship between diversifying communities and shifts in public spending. Simply put, ‘As diversity rises, public spending falls — of all types, including education, health care, roads or welfare programs.’ “
Comparing this year’s and last year’s report cards, Toney tells me that there have been improvements. The Legislature, for example, passed and the governor signed 62 percent of the bills studied, a significant increase from a year ago, when only 37 percent of those studied were signed into law. Also, this year, there were 65 legislators listed on the honor roll and honorable mention list. That’s more than double since last year’s report card when only 26 were cited. And of the bills that addressed American Indian Tribal Sovereignty, 100 percent were passed into law, according to the new Report Card.
But, “Despite some progress, Minnesota law makers are still not making the grade, he says, noting that some of Minnesota’s disparity rates are among the worst in the nation.
Toney cites several “missed opportunities,” including the Teacher Diversity Loan Program. Students of color make up about 24 percent of the K-12 population, yet teachers of color make up only 3 percent of the teacher population. This bill would have helped to recruit and train teachers of color to work within Minnesota’s rapidly diversifying schools. Others crucial bills that were not passed include a bill to reduce structural barriers to voting and one aimed at assessing the root causes of unequal arrest rates among juveniles of color.
In the face of the disparities and the reluctance of some lawmakers, Godinez says: “Societies are judged by how they treat their children, their elderly, the sick, and the immigrant. Leaders must be intentional and look at the disparities and with a belief in the tool of legislative policy-making and the information from our communities. Together, we can solve these entrenched public policy issues.”