Jermaine Toney is the Principal researcher at the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, which recently released its ‘Annual Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity’. Batala McFarlane, publisher of ‘Insight News’ and producer of Conversations with Al McFarlane, joined host Al McFarlane in conducting the Toney interview.
Al McFarlane: The Report Card says, “Despite declarations that an economic recovery is underway; more than a 132,000 Minnesotans have lost their jobs since December 2007 and in particular the unemployment and wealth crises has worsened for American Indians, Communities of color and new Minnesotans who were facing desperate poverty and unemployment rates even before this recession and to make matters worse the report says Minnesota’s safety net for child care, for housing and education has been nearly dismantled by a decade of public disinvestment. Predatory lending practices from home ownership to pay-day lending have undermined income and wealth opportunity making it nearly impossible for Minnesotans of color and poor Minnesotans to earn and lean on assets in hard times. Our economic recovery must be equitable fueled by policy that upholds fair treatment, family supporting wages, a vibrant safety net, culturally appropriate financial services and that build on economic contributions of Communities of Color.” The report summarizes, “Our future prosperity relies on eliminating barriers economic opportunity. Minnesota’s younger workers are more racially diverse than older workers. We do see today’s barriers will ensure that our younger workers of color are successful future investors, law makers, farmers and business owners of Minnesota”.
So Jermaine, why it is important to insure equity and to reduce inequity in the area of economic and wealth equity?
Jermaine Toney: Payday lending is one of the big civil rights issue of our times. These are short term loans but they take a big piece of your payday check.
Al McFarlane: It’s called “loan sharking” and poor people are particularly vulnerable. You need money for something today, maybe its food, maybe its rent, maybe its shoes, maybe its bus transportation. The need is serious so you turn to where ever you can. Too often it’s a business set up in or on the periphery of your neighborhood that markets and provides the infamous “payday loan.”
Jermaine Toney: We are going to set some new standards for payday lenders. They’re going to be now collecting information on who came in through the door, how much was given in advance, what was that interest rate. Was it 5%, was it 300%?
We are now starting to collect this information so we know what is happening. We go to the state legislature seeking laws and regulations that turn these inequities around. Minnesotans should get a fair shake, if they are getting payday loans.
Al McFarlane: The legislation that was created and signed by the Governor indicated that payday loan customers are more likely to earn less than $25,000 a year, typically are under the age of 45, and as often as not, tend to be people of color who face barriers to desirable credit. They are caught in the credit worthiness squeeze. Your report highlights a 2001 study in North Carolina that revealed that Black people were five times more likely to receive multiple payday loans, and twice as likely to borrow, compared to whites. So it seems our community is doubly targeted: on the one hand you are squeezed out of commercial banking and commercial lending resources because of credit worthiness considerations; then you are forced to go to these predatory lenders like the payday lenders, or payday loans. You will pay. You pay dearly.
Livable wages would relive some of the stress our families experience. How the Legislature fare in responding to work and economic development needs of our community.
Jermaine Toney: The green economy is here, and it’s propped up with federal stimulus dollars and state investment. Minnesota passed legislation supporting the good investment in the green economy that ensures that, women, lower income workers, workers of color actually benefit in this sort of new green economy.
The legislation says, “Hey, we are going to make an investment to train new workers. We are going to invest in making sure they get jobs that pay family-supporting wages. This is part of making sure that women, lower income workers, workers of color get a fair shake in the new green economy.
Al McFarlane: Batala, you have been involved in promoting the green economy through the newspaper. How important is it that our community takes ownership and gets in the forefront of understanding and building a green economy?
Batala McFarlane: It’s very important because I think it’s another opportunity for employment and along with employment, it’s an opportunity for small business development. We have to make sure that we are part of the conversation. The whole green jobs movement can be inclusive. The leaders of the green job movement are like multicultural and represent a multitude of progressive organizations and interests. They do want to make sure that everybody has opportunity. This movement looks to the future with a commitment to transparency and accountability. The movement demands accountability to the earth, to the environment and to every human being. The green jobs movement means creating sustainable economies that rely less on finite resources, and more on renewable resources. That means converting our style of living and consumption to renewable energy strategies, for example.
Al McFarlane: What role can African people, African-Americans in particular, and urban citizens in particular, play in both learning about what it means to create sustainable environmentally conscious employment and consumption patterns and, what leadership role should we play in helping developing awareness globally? Is there an opportunity for us to use the green economy to create wealth in our community?
The bill promoting hiring equity and green jobs said, ‘studies show that Minnesota’s Communities of Color and low-income communities have been hardest hit by the current recession. Thousands of Black, Latino and low-income workers have lost their jobs at a faster clip than the general population.” This bill Senate file 657, is a significant piece of legislation that can increase hiring equity and build wealth in Minnesota’s Communities of Color. This bill commits $2.5 million of public investments to strengthen opportunity and equity by preparing low-income Minnesotans for weatherization jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency trades. The bill supports outreach to those communities. By supporting outreach by community based organizations that deal with renewable energy opportunities and by ensuring equitable access for disadvantaged women owned businesses and businesses owned by people of color, and the bill calls for reporting on the progress on how weatherization programs have specifically benefited people of color and low income people. Weatherization is something that’s simple but its global. Everybody lives somewhere. How do we make the places we live more energy efficient through proper weatherization?
Jermaine Toney: Communities of color and low-income communities don’t win when we fail to consider race and income impacts of public policy decisions. We get left behind when it comes to wealth opportunities. Well here is a piece of legislation that pushes against that. This says if we are going to make progress on some of these inequities, we actually must be seeing if low-income communities and communities of color actually benefit from the wealth building opportunity. So here they’re actually going to report quarterly on progress turning around health inequities, wealth building inequities and so forth.
I think it shows that when community leadership and legislative leadership work together we can get lot done to advance racial equity in Minnesota.