From home-ownership to health care and education, the overall status of blacks in Washington offers a sobering portrait.
Education struggles among African-American students are well-documented. As are their higher poverty rates, heightened health risks and, among their families, lower home-ownership numbers. But typically, such data points come in isolation. A recent report attempts to connect the dots and give an up-to-the-minute portrait of African-Americans in Washington.
About 280,000 black people live here, and they are five times more likely to be incarcerated than other state residents, almost twice as likely to be unemployed and barely represented in the state legislature, according to “Creating an Equitable Future,” which was written by the left-leaning Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
Released last year, the document combs through data in five areas: economic security, education, health, criminal justice and civic engagement, concluding that serious work needs to be done to create an equitable future for African Americans.
Black children, for example, are detained by police at four times the rate of youths statewide, and suspended or expelled from school more than twice as often as whites. (In Seattle schools, blacks are removed at four times the rate of their white peers.)
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“Honestly, this is all stuff that the African-American community already knows,” said Edward Prince, executive director of the state Commission on African American Affairs. “But outside of our community it’s not understood in any real detail. And it’s important that legislators who are of a different demographic know this.”
Of 147 state representatives, Eric Pettigrew, D-Renton, is the only sitting legislator who is black.
Areas of extreme disadvantage for African Americans are sometimes hidden beneath overall trends, the report notes. For example, while unemployment peaked at 10 percent statewide in the aftermath of the recent Great Recession, among blacks it was a staggering 21 percent in 2010, and remained high even as the economy began to stabilize. As of 2015, black unemployment stood at 9 percent, the highest rate of any ethnic group in the state.
“This hurts me to my core,” said Prince.
Most galling, he said, are wage disparities that reinforce generations of poverty. Prince traces the cause for this back to the schoolhouse: higher school suspension rates lead to less time in class and lower academic outcomes, so that when black youths enter the workforce they are over-represented in low-wage jobs, he said.
The median household income for African-American families in Washington is nearly $18,000 less than the state average, according to the report. And only 28 percent of black workers have a monthly income that covers their basic needs—determined to be $3,671 for a family of three. Little surprise, then, that 35 percent of black children are living in poverty, compared with 18 percent of all Washington kids.
Other largely white states have taken legislative measures to address such disparities, Prince observed.
Iowa, Minnesota, Connecticut and Oregon all require minority-impact assessments before passing new criminal justice laws. A similar measure has been proposed for Washington and, while still alive, it is inching through the legislature.
“Iowa is less diverse than we are, and the fact that they can get legislation like that passed means to me that we need to do more,” Prince said. “The governor has committed to working toward more parity in minority contracting and education. But I’d like to see many hands making light work of that.”