Black state political and community leaders Tuesday evening pledged to dive deep into the causes of poverty for black Minnesotans, aiming to craft solutions that would improve the economic condition of the state’s diverse black population.
The forum, held at Franklin Middle School in north Minneapolis, was co-hosted by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, and state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul.
“This isn’t a problem that [only] black people have,” Champion said. “I would beg to differ,” he said, arguing that efforts to improve long-standing racial disparities in household income will require the cooperation of all. “It’s our collective responsibility to work toward a solution.”
The forum comes as the state grapples with recent census data that show the rate of poverty for black Minnesotans rose to 38 percent in 2014, up five percentage points from the year before. The same data show that blacks in Minnesota were the only racial group to see a statistically significant drop in household income from 2013 to 2014.
“I take this very, very personally,” Moran, the only black Minnesota House member, said Tuesday. “I’ve been walking around with a heavy, heavy heart ever since I heard about the census report.”
Moran called the trend “shameful” and said the conversation taking place now around racial disparities “needs to be part of our legislative agenda at the Capitol.”
Ellison, who represents Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs, told forum attendees that on the national front, he has proposed legislation to ease high incarceration rates for blacks, and a livable wage bill, among other bills.
Tuesday’s forum involved two panels, including presentations on the trends by Susan Brower, the state demographer, and Sam Meyers, a University of Minnesota professor who studies racial disparities and the impact of social policies on the poor.
Brower and Meyers said racial disparities have been longstanding, but that it is important that policymakers and political leaders remember that Minnesota’s black population is diverse. The state’s black population is 40 percent immigrants, Brower said, pointing to census data.
Meyers also said that the causes of the state’s racial disparities are under-researched. Among possible explanations for the high poverty and unemployment rates, he said, are labor market discrimination and self-employment disparities.
Also participating in the forum were leaders of several community groups, including the Minneapolis Urban League, the Minneapolis NAACP, the Northside Funders Group, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.