Long way to King’s goal

Persistent segregation, plus deindustrialization and declining in job quality across the region, has created stark and sustained obstacles to equal opportunity and equal outcomes.

As we mark Martin Luther King Day, it is also worth underscoring just how far we need to travel — in Iowa and in the nation — to achieve Dr. King’s aspirations of true and substantive racial equality.

Nationally, the last half-century has seen some progress in African-American educational attainment, wages, and incomes. But gains on other fronts — including home ownership, wealth, unemployment, and incarceration — have been elusive.

Regrettably, Iowa (and its upper Midwestern neighbors) remain among the starkest settings for racial inequality across a number of dimensions. Historically, Midwestern and rustbelt metropolitan areas have always been among the segregated places to live. Indeed black-white segregation in Iowa’s metro areas has persisted across the last generation and — in the Iowa City metro — has actually worsened since 1990. This, coupled, with the sustained impact of deindustrialization and declining in job quality across the region, has created stark and sustained obstacles to equal opportunity and equal outcomes.

The result is a jarring juxtaposition: While Midwestern metros (Des Moines, Madison, Minneapolis) typically crowd the “best places to live” lists, they are also among the very worst places to live for African-Americans. In one recent analysis, ranking the states by an index of racial inequality, Iowa and its immediate neighbors (Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Illinois) were the top (worst) five states.

Below, I have calculated Iowa’s position (rank among the states) across five key dimensions. For poverty, income, unemployment, and homeowners I used the Census Bureau’s 2013-2017 American Community Survey (pooling five years of data, given the size of the African-American sample in Iowa, provides a more reliable estimate); for rates of incarceration, I rely on the ongoing work of the Sentencing Project.

Here are the results:

1.  Although Iowa’s unemployment rate is low, the white-black gap is persistent. At 7.2 percent, the African-American unemployment rate is more than double the rate (3.2 percent) for white Iowans (2013-17). We are one of 16 states to reach this dubious threshold; the ratio of white-to-black employment in Iowa is the eighth worst in the country.

2.  African-American household median income in Iowa ($30,505) is barely half white household income. On this measure, we rank seventh worst in the country.

3.  On poverty, the disparity is even starker. The African-American poverty rate in Iowa (34.1 percent) is more than triple the white poverty rate (10.0 percent). We rank sixth worst in the country.

4.  Almost three quarters (74.1 percent) of white Iowan heads of households own their homes, almost triple the rate (27 percent) for black heads of household. On this metric, Iowa has the seventh worst disparity in the country.

5.  One of every 17 black men in Iowa are in prison, a rate of incarceration that is the third worst (behind only Vermont and Oklahoma) in the country. The ratio of black-white incarceration in Iowa is 11.1: 1 (for every white adult in prison there are 11.1 black adults in prison), again ranking third worst (behind Wisconsin and New Jersey).

Colin Gordon is senior research consultant for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. A professor of history at the University of Iowa, Gordon also has authored IPP’s State of Working Iowa reports. Contact: cgordonipp@gmail.com

Assuring opportunity for all Iowans

New Census data highlight the need for Iowa policymakers to ensure that all can fully contribute to Iowa’s economy

New Census data highlights a slight decline in Iowa’s overall poverty rate, though not all racial groups benefited from this advance. Stagnating household incomes and poverty rates among working Iowa families of color over the past 10 years mean that economic gains aren’t broadly shared among racial groups in Iowa.[i]

180915-MedianIncome_Race_IA

Ways that the Iowa Legislature could strengthen economic security for families of color include:

  • expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC);
  • ensuring that high-income Iowans and corporations pay their fair share of taxes;
  • raising the minimum wage; and
  • investing in preschool and K-12 education.[ii]

In recent days, the U.S. Census Bureau released new 2017 data covering poverty, income, and health insurance coverage.

Iowa showed a slight decrease in family and child poverty rates and an increase in household incomes. The outdated poverty guidelines fail to capture what it really takes to get by in Iowa.[iii] Our Cost of Living in Iowa research builds basic needs budgets for multiple family types across Iowa. Our 2018 analysis found that 30 percent of black working households and 28 percent of Latino households were unable to meet basic needs. This compares to 16 percent of white households.[iv]

The median household income for black Iowa families was about half of white family household incomes in 2017. White households are the only group who saw a statistically significant increase in household income over the past 10 years. Poverty rates declined for white and Latino Iowans between 2016 and 2017. However, poverty rates for black, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American Iowans have remained the same.[v]

Communities of color in Iowa continue to face barriers to economic prosperity. These include structural factors such as hiring discrimination and a lack access to quality jobs, great schools, and convenient transportation. Latino and Black families are disproportionately low-income. Further, they pay a larger portion of their income in sales and property taxes relative to more affluent Iowans.[vi]

Moving to a less regressive statewide tax system for families while closing corporate tax loopholes to assure stronger investments for all Iowans would work to dismantle some of the barriers to economic success for all Iowans and particularly families of color, who the latest data show are disproportionately impacted.

Expanding the EITC and raising the minimum wage would contribute to more broadly shared prosperity, as would restoring Iowa’s traditional commitment to education. Education funding in Iowa has lagged in K-12 and opportunities to advance in college are threatened by state cuts in support. Iowans and their leaders should be looking to solutions that improve equity and opportunity for a new generation of Iowans.[vii]

[i] U.S. Census Bureau, “Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months.” September 2018. American Community Survey 1-year estimates. factfinder.census.gov/

[ii] Erica Williams, “States Should Adopt Policies to Help Dismantle Racial Barriers to Broader Prosperity.” September 2018. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/states-should-adopt-policies-to-help-dismantle-racial-barriers-to-broader-prosperity

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Peter Fisher and Natalie Veldhouse, “The Cost of Living in Iowa 2018 Edition Part 2: Many Iowa Households Struggle to Meet Basic Needs.” July 2018. Iowa Policy Project. http://iowapolicyproject.org/2018docs/180702-COL2018-Part2.pdf

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

2018-NV-6w_3497(1)Natalie Veldhouse is a research associate at the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. nveldhouse@iowapolicyproject.org