RACINE — After being ranked the third-worst metropolitan area in the U.S. for black Americans last year and fourth-worst the year before, Racine has now been ranked as the second-worst city for black Americans in the U.S., according to a recent 24/7 Wall St. study.
The list was created by Delaware-based financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St., which compiled data about income, poverty, education attainment, homeownership and unemployment data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The ranking applies to the entire Racine metropolitan area, which encompasses all of Racine County.
The Milwaukee area — specifically Milwaukee, Waukesha and West Allis — was named as the worst area to live for black Americans by the same study. Last year, it was ranked second-worst.
According to the study, the median annual income for black households in the Racine area averaged less than half of white households, with black households bringing in $27,658 a year, while white households bring in $64,321 in Racine County.
“Part of the biggest reason for the inequality is the economic gap,” said Corey Prince, who is Wisconsin State Chair of the NAACP criminal justice committee. “The disparity is great. It’s embedded in the fiber of this town.”
The article states that 30.8% of black Racine-area residents live in poverty, almost four times the corresponding white poverty rate of 8.7%.
Black unemployment in the Racine area is at 13.1% (down 3.5% from last year’s analysis), while unemployment in the white community is at 5.1% (down 1% from last year).
The study also looked at homeownership rates, which showed that 30.6% of Racine black residents owned a home while 74.8% of white residents owned a home.
“Owning a home is one of the most effective ways for families to build long-term wealth and avoid the cycle of poverty,” the article said.
Higher education rates
Higher education attainment was also measured in the study, which showed that only 7.4% of black adults in Racine possess a bachelor’s degree, the 12th smallest share of any metro area nationwide, and 19.3 percentage points less than the 26.7% college attainment rate for white adults in the metro area, according to the report.
“Individuals without a bachelor’s degree are more likely to live below the poverty line than those with a college education,” the article states.
Al Gardner, a community activist and Mount Pleasant resident, says education should be a priority from a young age. “Black parents should get involved in their child’s education,” Gardner said. “If you don’t get involved, the criminal justice system will educate your child.”
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Prince said that because many black families are struggling to earn a liveable income, some are working multiple jobs to get by, creating a different dynamic than what is often found in the homes of other families, who might be able to afford to have a parent at home with the children.
“That is why so many children end up in the school-to-prison pipeline,” Prince said.
A county-wide problem
In recent years, the county has enlisted a variety of programs to try to tackle the disparities the report highlighted, including workforce programs such as Racine Works and Uplift 900 and initiatives with United Way, Gateway Technical College and Higher Expectations for Racine County.
Last year, when Racine was ranked No. 3, Racine Mayor Cory Mason said the county was working together to address the issue. “The school district, the nonprofit sector, everybody is working together and rowing in the same direction to get at these challenges.”
After this year’s report, Mason said this:
“I am upset by this report, and I know that its findings are not ‘news’ to local African Americans or to my administration. But I cannot stress this enough: the data presented in this report is county-wide data and the City of Racine cannot fix a countywide problem on our own. We cannot singlehandedly undo more than a century’s worth of policies that have redlined people into poverty, closed our municipal borders and effectively segregated our communities. Without the surrounding villages stepping up and acknowledging the challenges we face together, we will continue to be a community where, if you’re poor and a person of color, the only place you likely can afford to live will be the City of Racine; and if you are white and have money, you will likely live in the surrounding suburbs.”
According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, 73.9% of all black Racine County residents live in the City of Racine, while only 29.8% of the county’s white population lives in the city. “This is a very segregated city,” Prince said.
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said that county is continuing to work toward changing the racial climate.
“Racine County is committed to helping change this unacceptable ranking. We have recognized this challenge, made key investments and have seen some progress, including through our Uplift 900 employment initiative, which is geared toward the underserved population in the City of Racine. However, we still have a long way to go. We look forward to closely working with the broader community on solutions,” Delagrave said.
Tackling the disparity
Prince called the programs that the county has tried to enlist “valiant efforts,” but said they will not be successful until there is sufficient input from members of the black community.
“The people close to the problem are close to the solutions. People are hired to run and administer and ambassador these program who don’t understand the recipients of the programs,” Prince said. “They don’t have a shared lived experience. Without that, there is a disconnect at the inception.”
Gardner said he would like to see changes to criminal justice policies that he said are unequal to blacks, equal access to health care and housing for low-income workers. He added that he would also like to see tough conversations occur between those with the largest companies in the area and members of the black community.
“Why are they not coming up with a plan to help the black communities?” Gardner said. “You need a hard conversations around all these issues with the people, not representatives of the people, but the actual, grassroots people.”
“The disparity is great. It’s embedded in the fiber of this town.” Corey Prince, Wisconsin State Chair of the NAACP criminal justice committee
"The disparity is great. It’s embedded in the fiber of this town."
Corey Prince, Wisconsin State Chair of the NAACP criminal justice committee