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.