RACINE — After being named the fourth-worst area in the U.S. for black Americans last year, the Racine area has been named the third-worst city this year, according to a recent 24/7 Wall St. article.
The list was created by Delaware-based financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St., and was compiled using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. The study factored in household income, poverty, adult high school and bachelor’s degree attainment, home ownership and unemployment.
The ranking also used recent data from The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit dedicated to criminal justice reform.
According to 24/7 Wall St., the 2018 top five worst areas/cities for black Americans, all of which are located in the Midwest, are:
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis.
- Racine, Wis.
- Minneapolis, Minn.
- Peoria, Ill.
“This is a metro Racine measure of inequality, which measures the city, Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant,” said Racine Mayor Cory Mason. “It is a regional challenge we have to overcome, so we need a regional solution.”
Community activist Al Gardner said he spoke during Racine’s City Council meeting Tuesday, and said the issue needs to be addressed.
“Racism is real and it has long lasting impacts in our community,” Mason said. “There are disparities that exist between parts of our community, and we need to continue to address them as a major priority.”
Wage disparity, unemployment
The article addressed unequal wages, stating that the median annual income for black households in the Racine area averaged 42.3 percent of white households, with black households earning $26,888 a year, and white households averaging $63,507 a year.
That is an increase from last year, when data showed Racine area black households earned 34.6 percent of white households — $21,573 annually, with white households earning $62,368.
The national median annual income for black households in the U.S. is $36,651, about $24,000 less than the median income of white households, the 24/7 Wall St. article states.
“Racine, Wis., is one of several Rust Belt cities where social and economic outcomes for black residents fall well behind those of white area residents,” the article states.
Mason said closing the skills gap would help close the unequal wage gap that exists, but said local authorities’ hands are often tied by state policies.
“We are prohibited by state law from the kind of policies that would help raise wages for everyone,” Mason said. “I would like to see more policy solutions that would raise those wages for everybody, because when you don’t do that, the rest end up subsidizing benefits and other programs to make up the gap.”
The article also compared unemployment between black and white residents in the Racine area.
This year, the study showed that black unemployment in greater Racine is at 16.6 percent, with white unemployment at 6.1 percent. Last year, the report noted that black unemployment was at 10.7 percent, and white unemployment at 4.8 percent in the Racine area. That is an increase of 5.9 percent for black residents and 1.3 percent for white residents.
In the past year, workforce programs including Racine Works and Uplift 900 were launched, and initiatives with United Way, Gateway Technical College and Higher Expectations for Racine County were enlisted. In October, Racine also received $1.5 million in Fast Forward grants from the state to train workers.
“I do feel like you have the county and the city and the technical college and everybody working together. The school district, the nonprofit sector, everybody is working together and rowing in the same direction to get at these challenges,” Mason said.
‘Foxconn effect,’ solutions
Mason said the arrival of Foxconn creates a unique opportunity to help bridge the inequalities facing blacks and whites in the Racine area.
“Foxconn is the catalyst that creates the best opportunity to reduce these inequalities that we have had in a generation,” Mason said. “We need to make intentional steps that the economic growth that is coming is broadly shared by everyone.”
Mason also cited the “Foxconn effect,” which has driven other local companies to raise wages in hopes of retaining their employees as the Taiwanese manufacturer arrives.
Home ownership, housing
The study also looked at home ownership rates, which showed that 31.4 percent of Racine-area black residents own a home, whereas 77.1 percent of white Racine-area residents own a residence.
Mason said that the city is working with lenders to make first-time home buying an option for residents.
“A part of it is we need to look at the housing stock itself to make sure we have affordable housing options that are available,” Mason said.
He also pointed to developers’ interest in the area due to Foxconn, and the redevelopment of the Walker Muffler site along Michigan Boulevard and the Gold Medal lofts, 1701 Packard Ave., both as workforce housing.
“We need to make sure we are creating (housing) options for everybody. That is going to be critically important,” Mason said. “If we are not mindful of making spaces for people at every level of the economic ladder, people are going to be left behind.”
Bridging the divide
Gardner said that the community needs to have hard discussions in order to make the Racine area a more equal place to live.
“We need to have an African American community conversation and put a plan of action together to solve this terrible position that we are in,” Gardner said. “We have an African American police chief, African American superintendent of Racine Unified schools, and an African American CEO of United Way of Racine County. I feel that these three people should take the lead on this initiative because of their positions in the community.”
In the 2018 city budget, Mason’s first as mayor, he allocated funds to create the position of strategic initiatives and community partnerships liaison, which will focus on dealing with inequality in the community.
“We have been quiet too long and look what it has gotten us — the third-worst place to live in the United States,” Gardner said. “I know that one person alone cannot solve this problem, but I will tell you this: If you don’t try, you will surely fail.”