Blacks living in Minnesota are in economic crisis – a crisis so urgent one community leader likened it to South African apartheid.
“Minnesota, we have an apartheid problem,” said Steve Belton, interim president of the Minneapolis Urban League. “Despite our carefully crafted and maintained image of forward thinking government, progressive corporate leadership, generous philanthropic partnerships and active civic engagement on matters of equality, fairness and quality of life, African-Americans and African immigrants in Minnesota live a separate reality where poverty is three times greater than that of white Minnesotans.”
Belton’s message was delivered flanked by members of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) during a recent press conference at the Minneapolis Urban League headquarters. The press conference was called in the wake of recent U.S. Census numbers that showed Black Minnesotans experienced a 14 percent drop in household income from 2013 to 2014. Blacks were the only ethnic group in the state to not post an economic gain during that time period. Census data showed that white Minnesotans posted a $64,281 median home income whereas that figure was just $27,026 for Black households.
“In other words, median white income was 138 percent higher than (Black) income,” said Belton. “Black people living in Minnesota are now worse off economically than Blacks in Mississippi, a state perennially at the bottom of the 50-state ranking of socio-economic indicators.”
The interim MUL president said the economic despair facing Black Minnesotan is all the more distressing considering the state is home to some of the nation’s wealthiest corporations.
“Not only do their (major corporations) shoe shiners and janitors come from our community; their nuclear physicists and presidents and vice presidents are going to come from our community,” said Belton. “We need the corporate and philanthropic community in the area to make this Job One.”
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter outlined a five-step program to address the economic issue, which was characterized as dire. The steps outlined by Carter include defined hiring goals for the state’s public and private employers, support of Black-owned businesses, legislative acts, having philanthropic organizations demonstrate a greater commitment to the issue and better monitoring and reporting of state employers.
“We can and must do better,” said Carter. “We can ensure opportunities for equity and prosperity for all.”
Confronted with the staggering economic numbers earlier in the month, Gov. Mark Dayton said his administration is anguished by the Census numbers, but has already taken steps to address the issue.
“The disparities are very distressing and show we need to do much more,” said Dayton, who this past January convened a Diversity and Inclusion Council. The council released a report this past July outlining strategies to close the economic gap the state is facing. To that effort, Dayton hired a statewide recruiter charged with identifying minority candidates for leadership positions within state agencies.
Farhio Khalif, who was in attendance at the AAFL press conference said she is cautiously optimistic.
“This is needed, but not a one-time event in front of the cameras,” said Khalif. “It’s got to continue. This has to be an everyday issue.”