I recently posted about critical thinking and dubious conclusions of racial discrimination in Ferguson and San Antonio. Today, USA Today contained an article pointing suggesting that Madison, WI should be added to the list of racist cities. According to the article, titled “Blacks lags whites in Wisconsin well-being”:
- “African Americans in Wisconsin’s capital significantly trail whites in dozens of measures of well-being. Those include employment, household income and percentage of children living above poverty.”
This media characterization of Madison is especially newsworthy, not only because Madison is the location of the latest “cop-kills-unarmed-black” incident, but also because Madison is a highly progressive city that often makes lists of “best places to live.” The article attempts to provide a balanced discussion of the issue by quoting three people:
- A local firebrand. “Racism is at the heart of Madison’s problems — blatant racism, covert racism and institutional racism,” said Eric Upchurch, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition. The group took part in a march Wednesday to demand “justice for Tony Robinson and all those murdered by police.”
- A sympathetic police chief. Among Madison’s whites, 95% of adults hold jobs, the median household income is $65,000 and only one child in 20 lives in poverty. By contrast, the Race to Equity Report found that blacks experience 25% unemployment, a household income of $25,594 and a child poverty rate of 58%. Madison’s racial disparity is strikingly evident in arrest statistics. A USA TODAY analysis of arrests made in 2011-12 found the rate of arrests of blacks is 9.6 times greater than that of whites. That’s greater than the disparity in Ferguson, Mo., and one of the widest gaps found in any large or midsize American city. “If you have a problem being a social worker with a badge, I hope to hell we find you out,” said Chief Mike Koval, Madison Police Department.
- A logical out-of-state academic. Authorities point out that disparity in arrest figures does not automatically mean police are racist. David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies relationships between race and crime, said disparity signals leaders to look closely to determine why the disparity exists, and determine whether fixes are needed. “It may indicate discriminatory practices by police, but it may not,” Harris said. “It might be that people in poorer neighborhoods — something often correlated with a high percentage of minority (residents) — are demanding more police services, as they should.”
As I was thinking about the various numbers being bandied about, I thought about two other statistics on racial inequality that are often overlooked:
- Wealth. In 2013, according to Pew Research, white households had an average net worth of $149,000, black households $11,000, and Hispanic households $13,700.
- Parenthood. In 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25% of white children were in single-parent households, 67% of black children were, and 42% of Hispanic children.
These two numbers indicate that white kids, with two parents and an inheritance, have a huge advantage over black and Hispanic kids and this advantage makes in unreasonable to expect that, even in the absence of racist conduct, school suspensions and police interventions will be racially indistinguishable.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to these two numbers.