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Caledonia trustees question validity of study that claimed Racine is second-worst area for blacks

Caledonia trustees question validity of study that claimed Racine is second-worst area for blacks

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CALEDONIA — The report that designated the greater Racine area as the second-worst metropolitan area in the U.S. for black people has generated a lot of discussion over the last week.

It was discussed at a Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce legislative breakfast on Thursday, a Racine City Council meeting on Tuesday as well as at a Caledonia meeting Wednesday.

Caledonia Village Board trustees, none of whom are black, weighed in with varied opinions.

Former State Rep. Tom Weatherston, who rejoined the Village Board this year, questioned the validity of 24/7 Wall Street’s recently released study. That study — which looked at Census data about income, poverty, education attainment, homeownership and unemployment — concluded that the greater Racine area was the second-worst metro for African Americans in the U.S.

Milwaukee was the only area in the country with a worse ranking.

24/7 Wall Street’s study showed that the median annual income for black households in the Racine area averaged less than half of white households. The median black household earned $27,658 a year, while the median white household brought in $64,321 in Racine County.

The study also showed that four black people in the Racine-area are four times more likely to live in poverty than white people, and that the unemployment rate for black residents is almost triple that of white residents.

“The key thing I get from that report,” Weatherston said, “is that there’s no jobs for African Americans in Downtown Racine: there’s no jobs for anybody in Downtown Racine. But the report is targeted toward one ethnic group, so obviously we have a failing grade.”

The vast majority of Racine County’s black residents live in the city, while more than 70% of the county’s white residents live outside of the city.

Weatherston also said he was confused by how Racine could be ranked so poorly with racial inequality, but then was showed such improvement regarding LGBT issues; last month, the national gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign raised the City of Racine’s Municipal Equality Index score from a relatively low 41 up to 86.

“I don’t know how we can be great in one area and not in another area,” Weatherston concluded.

Trustee Fran Martin quickly countered Weatherston and accused him of being blind to discrimination.

“It’s perfectly possible for a city to be a great place for the LGBT community and a very difficult place for African Americans. And I will say that when you’re a member of the OWG club — the Old White Guy club (referring to Weatherston) — you’ve never faced discrimination,” Martin said. “It (discrimination) is invisible if you haven’t experienced it. It is there.”

Weatherston said he would like to see a more in-depth study of race in the greater Racine area. “I’d love it if someone else were to do that same investigation and tell us if there really is an issue in town,” he said.

Then at the Thursday morning legislative breakfast, Village President Jim Dobbs also questioned the study.

“I don’t buy it,” Dobbs said, sharing a similar opinion to Weatherston: that the situation of racial inequality might not be as bad as 24/7 Wall Street made it out to be.

A possible block to collaboration

The focus of Wednesday’s Village Board meeting was on the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s study of possible consolidation between the Caledonia, Racine and South Shore fire departments.

And before Martin and Weatherston weighed in during Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Kevin Wanggaard took some time to voice issues he had with a commentary written by Racine Mayor Cory Mason that was published in The Journal Times on Nov. 14.

In that commentary, Mason wrote that the analysis from 24/7 Wall Street: “only helps to reinforce arguments that I have been making since I first took office — disparities between the City of Racine and our surrounding villages and towns are problematic, inequitable, and continue to grow.”

Wanggaard said Caledonia shouldn’t be asked to “support the City of Racine,” as he felt Mason was requesting. Wanggaard continued by saying Mason’s commentary makes it more difficult for municipalities like Caledonia to work with Racine.

“I was kind of taken back by that article,” Wanggaard said, referring to Mason’s commentary. “That does nothing to help our footing to help us consolidate with anybody.”

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