RACINE — Racine was named the fourth worst city in the nation for black people to live, according to a recent 24/7 Wall St. article.
While Racine’s high placement on the Delaware-based financial news and opinion company’s article may surprise some residents, it brings attention to a topic gaining both national and local attention — racial inequality and possible solutions.
“As somebody who’s been working in this community for 20 years, I’ve always known that those disparities exist,” Racine Mayor Cory Mason said. “Anybody who lives here, anybody who’s done work in this community would be able to tell you that those disparities are real and there’s a lot of work to do to address them.”
Although Melvin Hargrove, a local pastor and former Racine Unified School Board president, was not surprised by the recent article’s findings, but was surprised Racine placed so high on this list. “I was surprised we were listed as fourth in the nation” said Hargrove. “I never try to run to race first. I’ve always said I love Racine — I love my city, but there are still some issues we have to face as people of color.”
Financial inequality found
According to 24/7 Wall St., these are the top five worst cities for black people to live in are:
- 1. Erie, Pennsylvania
- 2. Peoria, Illinois
- 3. Milwaukee-Waukesha- West Allis, Wisconsin
- 4. Racine, Wisconsin
- 5. Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan
The list of worst cities for blacks was created using several socioeconomic factors, including household income, poverty, adult high school and bachelor’s degree attainment, home ownership and unemployment.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey was used to create the list, according to 24/7 Wall St. Using the data, it was reported that a black household in Racine earns $21,573 per year, while white households earn $62,368.
“The typical black household in the Racine metro area earns just 35 cents for every dollar the typical white household holds, the second largest black-white earnings gap of any city,” the 24/7 Wall St. article states.
Mason acknowledged many minimum wage jobs go to people of color. “That’s a real problem that has to be addressed,” Mason said.
“The manufacturing jobs that used to be here were much more likely middle class — the jobs that replaced them are more likely to be minimum wage ... People who are employed, they’re making 35 cents on the dollar in 2017. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
Unemployment, training discussed
The article also compared unemployment between whites and blacks, with white unemployment at 4.8 percent and black unemployment at 10.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
“We need unemployment to go down for everybody, but if we’re going to achieve that and get closer to the state average on unemployment, you’ve got to address the high unemployment in some of our more diverse communities by really reaching out and creating opportunities that are coming very nearby,” Mason said.
Hargrove believes the unemployment rates reflect an inequality because high incarceration rates of blacks in the city often provide employers a legal reason to discriminate against black workers.
“We can’t continue to sweep things under the rug, especially when it comes to the unemployment issues,” Hargrove said. “We have to challenge the employer. If we bring you skilled workers, you should try to hire them.”
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Al Gardner, a community advocate, proposes that those in charge of Foxconn provide economic inclusion for minorities and women to combat the inequality.
“We want 20 percent of the total construction cost to to go to minorities and women business enterprises, 20 percent of the total work hours to be performed by minorities and women workers and 20 percent of total work hours performed by apprentices to be completed by minorities and women,” Gardner said.
Mason believes Foxconn provides an opportunity for diversity. “With Foxconn coming to the area ... we need those disparities to shrink,” Mason said.
Education data cited
The article also notes a difference between education attainment in the Racine area’s white and black populations.
“In Racine, just 6.8 percent of black adults have at least a bachelor’s degree — less than half the 20.9 percent national black college attainment rate and the among the smallest shares of any city,” the article states. “Meanwhile, 28.4 percent of white adults in Racine have a bachelor’s degree.”
Mason acknowledged that programs like First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship are a step in the right direction but said he knows that more work must be done.
First Choice is a program that provides Racine residents — many without high school diplomas — skills in the building and construction trades.
“Addressing these inequalities, whether it’s around LGBT issues or racial inequalities around income and health outcomes and educational outcomes, that requires the work of the city to really lean in and move forward to begin to address those disparities,” Mason said.
The next step?
While the article may be disheartening to residents of Racine, many believe in working toward solutions to help bridge the gap.
At a recent “Black Boys: An Endangered Species” conference, what black boys in particular go through was the focus. The conference was presented by Payne and Frazier Consultants LLC, co-owned by Arletta Frazier-Tucker and Kimberly Payne.
“‘Black Boys: An Endangered Species’ was the first step in addressing black boy success in the Racine community,” Payne said. “Our next step will be to engage the community in action planning sessions so we can put a plan on paper and start the work.”
Racine Library Director Jessica MacPhail — who is also the treasurer of Coming Together Racine, an organization dedicated to educating the community about racism through study, education and discussion — believes progress is being made in the community.
MacPhail said the indicators of progress include: the city’s new mayor; Kenosha and Racine public libraries collaborating for staff training on inclusion and diversity; Racine Unified closing achievement gaps between white and minority students; and Visioning a Greater Racine’s goals to increase opportunities for people of color.
“There are many signs of improvement to be be hopeful about,” MacPhail said. “There is great strength and resilience when people of color and white people work together for positive change.”
Mason believes a plan of action is necessary to make strides for racial equality.
“We need to really begin neighborhood by neighborhood to identify what issues are that are the most acute that are keeping people in poverty and begin to build a strategy around that,” Mason said.
This story has been edited since publication to include the names of the other cities on the list and to add Melvin Hargrove's title.
"Addressing these inequalities, whether it’s around LGBT issues or racial inequalities around income and health outcomes and educational outcomes, that requires the work of the city to really lean in and move forward to begin to address those disparities."
Racine Mayor Cory Mason