Making a case for racial equity in dollars, cents and growth

Racial equity is often equated with social justice. But researchers are learning that addressing the legacy of racism in Michigan, and across the nation, can result in more than fighting injustices and promoting diversity. It has the phenomenal potential to strengthen economies, create jobs and revive neighborhoods, while broadening opportunities for children, families and communities to thrive.

This week, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Altarum Institute released a report, “The Business Case for Racial Equity in Michigan,” that documents the legacy of racial inequities creating barriers to achievement and diminishing the quality of life in the state. Conscious and unconscious bias is entrenched in both public and private institutions, affecting hiring, lending patterns, education, policing, sentencing and other policies and practices.

Yet, the report gives tremendous hope for the future, providing a blueprint for how pursuing and achieving racial healing and equity can lead to better outcomes for future generations and our economy.

For instance, Michigan’s GDP could likely increase by 7.5 percent or $31.2 billion if earnings gaps were eliminated between workers of color and their white counterparts. Relatedly, another recent paper entitled “The Equity Solution,” by PolicyLink argues that if the pay gap among racial groups was eliminated nationally, the country might be 14 percent richer annually or $2.1 trillion in national GDP.

Clearly, the findings provide incentives and inspiration for all sectors of Michigan society to work together with communities and civic leaders in finding new ways to build trust and overcome the inequities and scars from our past. There is a shared benefit for everyone – the report demonstrates that ending discrimination is a winning scenario for all races, ethnicities and economic classes.

Moreover, the state has never had a greater incentive to embrace racial healing and racial equity, with 40 percent of the state’s youth estimated to be children of color by 2040. The report found that the average child of color in Michigan is born into a path of poorer health, lower educational attainment, fewer employment opportunities, and greater involvement with the criminal justice system than the average white child. It’s critical that we prioritize healing racial divisions or the wealth, education and other gaps will grow in the future.

Our state is poised to succeed and can build upon the progress of existing programs that are addressing the inequities outlined in the report.

In Ypsilanti, the Perry Preschool Program is demonstrating that investments in early childhood education impact life outcomes. A two-year program in public housing developments targets African American children ages 3 and 4 and included sessions at school and home visits by teachers. A study of the program disclosed that participants at age 27 showed a 44 percent higher high school graduation rate and 50 percent fewer teenage pregnancies. At age 40, participants had 36 percent higher median earnings, were 46 percent less likely to have served time in jail or prison, were 32 percent more likely to own their own home, and were 26 percent less likely to have received government assistance.

In addition, Michigan has begun to focus on reducing incarcerations and addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. The objective is for the slogan “tough on crime” to become “smart on crime.” Initiatives to reduce incarceration include fewer mandatory drug sentences, increasing parole grants and reducing technical revocations, and enhancing community corrections programming. The prison population declined from more than 50,000 a decade ago to about 44,000 today, although the population has recently levelled off.

Throughout the state, local initiatives are targeting environmental factors critical to good health, including urban gardening and local food initiatives, lead paint testing and remediation, monitoring and cleanup of air and water quality, and development and maintenance of green space and recreational facilities. The goal is to promote healthy living and childhood play.

These opportunities are just a few of the initiatives underway. The report demonstrates that we must expand these activities, and collectively initiate more, to achieve racial equity in our state. Last Thursday, state leaders discussed the benefits of racial equity throughout the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. It underscored that our leaders see the costs associated with not addressing issues of racial equity. As the governor and others noted, growing the state’s economy will take all of us, all in one place, all at one time working together. We at the Kellogg Foundation urge Michigan’s leaders to remember that “all of us means” all races, all ethnicities and all ages.

With this report, we better understand what is at stake, and how we can change the future and make a better life for the generations who follow.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Sat, 05/30/2015 - 11:48am
Is this "legacy of racism" also responsible for the fact that 70% of black children are born out of wedlock? Forgive me if I doubt the veracity of or the claims made in this report. How is it that people like Condi Rice, Dr. Ben Carson, Barak Obama, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, or Loretta Lynch have managed to become so successful in this country that is so racist?
Tue, 06/02/2015 - 11:29am
Gus - your "doubting the veracity" of the report's claims about continued racial discrimination that impedes individual and family progress is simply an example of your own denial of facts. What can be said of someone who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge facts? Delusional? The facts are that after decades of housing opportunity discrimination - redlining, covenants, and predatory loans - many minorities have been unable to take advantage of the significant housing subsidies that would have allowed them to accumulate wealth and break the cycle of poverty. Guess what? Redlining against minorities, which contributed to the foreclosure crisis disproportionately impacting minorities, IS STILL HAPPENING. Here's some news from May 26th - last week: WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced an agreement with Associated Bank, N.A. (Associated) to resolve a disparate treatment redlining case, one of the largest redlining complaints brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender. At approximately $200 million, it is the largest settlement of this kind HUD has ever reached. The settlement stems from a HUD Secretary-initiated complaint alleging that from 2008-2010, the Wisconsin-based bank engaged in discriminatory lending practices regarding the denial of mortgage loans to African-American and Hispanic applicants and the provision of loan services in neighborhoods with significant African-American or Hispanic populations.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:20pm
First off, redlining did not contribute to the foreclosure crisis. Secondly, I am not denying any facts because no facts were presented – just a lot of opinion. Third, how can you make the claim the racial discrimination is responsible for 70% of black children being born out of wedlock? That is pure lunacy.
Sun, 05/31/2015 - 7:32am
What does any of this have to do with racism? or race?! Blacks need to talk to Blacks. Poverty breeds poverty and there is no educational model that has successfully demonstrated that mass numbers of children in poverty can be educated. It takes a strong will to break out of poverty when you are surrounded by it. Out of wedlock births have decimated the Black community, not racism. Get an education, get a job, get married that have children...that model provides the best chance of breaking out of poverty. The trouble with Blacks is that they want big government and legislation to direct their lives. You cannot legislate how people feel about other people.
Mark Higbee
Sun, 05/31/2015 - 8:00am
To the other person called Mark, I wonder if you realize that statement that "You cannot legislate how people feel about other people" is the identical argument made against the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Word for word, the same argument for maintaining the racial status quo, rather than endorsing the American ideal of equality for all. The you-cannot-legislate-attitudes claim has been made against nearly every idea advancing equality and freedom, including the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal") and the Emancipation Proclamation. I appreciate and applaud this new report by the Kellogg Foundation, which tackles a serious, complex problem and is based on careful use of evidence. So will other people who seek solutions to problems and do not engage in knee-jerk reiterations of long held biases that lack evidence.
Sun, 05/31/2015 - 11:26am
Mark Higbee- To compare my comments to the Civil Rights Act or the Declaration of Independence is ludicrous. These are different times. People have been making bad choices in life and not taking advantage of education. Poverty breeds poverty. Getting back to the traditional family structure is a key solution. I am reminded of former Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Director of Michigan Health & Human Services Director Maura Corrigan observations that she mentioned on numerous occasions. She said every time she visited Detroit Public School children of all ages, she would ask if they could name any married people that they know. She was saddened to learn every time, that few if any of those children could name a married family member or family friend. Sad. Getting back to the top of this op-ed article about ending discrimination. It is not by lowering standards or government legislation -Those two practices played a big role in where Blacks are today! Family structure, education as an internal family priority, and shifting government programs to charities are my proposed solutions.
Sun, 05/31/2015 - 5:43pm
The traditional family structure is not coming back for many people, those days have passed. For better or worse its a different world we live in today.
Mon, 06/01/2015 - 1:15am
Ms. Montgomery Tabron views reflect ‘conventional wisdom’ of race being an issue in the equity of our communities. What if race isn’t what is preventing financial and social success? What if race issues are not the cause but a symptom? Could it be that the efforts and resources invested in race concerns aren’t curing the cause? Could it be that in our abundant ‘world’ [America] that success is being blocked by a lack of knowledge and skills and their effective application? Could it be that the individual rather than the category they are part of is the most important factor in their success, gaining the valued knowledge and skills, and its application? What if trying to describe all the individuals lack pf success with a word or phrase is creating a complex problem that can’t be solved by government, by money [W.K Kellogg Foundation], by laws, by the government? What if the knot of complexity is building barriers to individual success? If we were looking at the data differently and tried to understand how the successful may do things differently than the unsuccessful might we identify the cause of the problem [lack of personal success] and direct some of our efforts and resources at addressing that cause? Could we achieve better results? Maybe it is time to break from ‘conventional wisdom’ to look at simplifying the problem by considering the individual and what they need for personal success. What if the talk about the economic benefit of creating ‘racial equity’, were to focus on the economic benefit of individual knowledge and skills and the individual effectively applying them, might that change how we develop success across the full spectrum of society rather than trying to create that success for a single group in that spectrum? Maybe to change the future we need to consider that the individual has the most impact on changing their future rather then waiting for others to change the future for them? Maybe its more about giving the tools for future success than it is about our changing the future for others>
Wed, 06/03/2015 - 11:10am
It has been better said by others in their commentary on a well meaning, but sad piece by our friends at Kellogg. The Black society of America was a wholly different place just a couple of generations ago. Families of African American heritage mirrored much of the country. No, I'm not talking about the financial condition, we can agree that there was and in some quarters continues to be, some disparity. The foundation of the family unit was strong and the church was a core component. Then Washington decided to intercede and out of wedlock births skyrocketed, education successes plummeted, whole neighborhoods collapsed. The Black male faded into the shadows as a person of strength and role model. If you were accomplished in basketball, could entertain as a singer/rapper, or pedaled dope then maybe you would be viewed by some, as successful. If you got up in the morning and set off to work like the majority of the rest of us, well you were just a 'sucka'. What a tragedy for all concerned. We all pay for these shortcomings with higher incarceration rates and cities that are dying slow painful deaths. I as a white person am tired of shouldering the blame for bad decisions made be some. These same bad judgments are not limited to the African American community they permeate all races, they exist back in the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, the Ozarks, the barrios of the Southwest, and on countless American gulags called reservations. People of all races are free (in this country) to make bad decisions, sometimes really stupid ones. We all have had our time with these circumstances, but most of us can and do overcome the impetuousness of youth (which can occur at any age). We come to the realization that only that, which we accomplish on our own, is truly appreciated. This state has just contributed to the bailout of its once proud city. A city that has for over two generations, been led by African Americans. A city led to ruin, where neighborhoods are abandoned, where it isn't safe for its senior citizens to walk the sidewalks. Where the drug store, dry cleaners, and grocery, cease to exist. Where the corner gas station is an abandoned hulk of broken windows and graffiti. A city whose schools have squandered the treasure, that its citizens have placed in their trust. A district where more than half will not graduate from high school let alone college. A district who's children are fed breakfast and lunch and yes, sometimes dinner by the schools. I ask you where is the parental responsibility, have you fathers no sense of pride in your offspring. No I am tired of getting preached too by those who cast blame on everyone but the guilty party. It is time for people to look in the mirror and ask themselves who is to blame. The Kellogg Foundation does some amazing, incredible things with the treasure created by past generations, but please don't ask us to right the poor choices of others, I'm tired of this. To quote an American general of recent times 'Are you stuck on stupid', move on and quit making excuses for others decisions.
Tue, 06/23/2015 - 2:39pm
"The report found that the average child of color in Michigan is born into a path of poorer health, lower educational attainment, fewer employment opportunities, and greater involvement with the criminal justice system than the average white child." The problem starts at home - with the parents - they need to set an example, making school attendance and homework a priority, keeping the kids off the streets, etc. The number of illigitimate births needs to decrease!!!