Black political and community leaders on Thursday criticized Gov. Mark Dayton and his administration, saying he is not doing enough to address the vast racial disparity in Minnesota’s socioeconomic conditions, following a report that black household income plunged in the state last year.
The trend appears to be unique to black Minnesotans. They were the only racial group to regress economically, with their median household income dropping to $27,000 in 2014, down from $31,500 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That stands in stark contrast to other racial groups in Minnesota, whose household incomes grew or stabilized during the same period. The state now trails Mississippi in terms of median household incomes for blacks.
State Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, blamed what he called a lack of urgency and political will at the state Capitol to act more aggressively in addressing income disparities by race.
By contrast, he pointed to Dayton’s recent urgent calls for a special legislative session to help Lake Mille Lacs resorts being hurt by a walleye shortage.
Hayden said the black community is hearing the message that, “Fish are more important than black people.”
He and other community leaders say that while the census information is alarming, it simply points out the disparities at all levels in the black community that they have seen building for years.
“It doesn’t matter who’s working in the administration — if you start talking to elected officials, they start pointing fingers,” said Louis King, president of the Minneapolis-based Summit Academy, a job training center. “If you’re black in Minnesota, you’re better off in Mississippi.”
Added King: “People can get upset at my words, but they cannot ignore facts.”
Minnesota also has one of the worst racial academic achievement gaps in the country. And while the state has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates — 4 percent — the jobless rate for blacks is nearly four times higher, 15.6 percent.
Blacks here are more likely to live in poverty, less likely to finish high school and more likely to be employed at lower-wage jobs than other Minnesotans.
Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, is the only black member of the Minnesota House. The Senate has two black members, Hayden and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis.
Moran called the census findings “disgraceful” and said the economic conditions of black Minnesotans had reached a “crisis” level that the rest of the state has largely ignored.
Though state officials are still trying to determine the causes of the trend, Moran said many of her constituents, particularly recent Somali and Oromo immigrants, say employers are reluctant to hire them even when they’re qualified.
“People are not hiring them, and these are even folks with [college] degrees,” Moran said.” They’re qualified … they’re sending their résumés out there and based on their names, getting nowhere. They have to take substandard jobs and that impacts our community. It’s something we need to work at.”
Dayton: Redouble efforts
Dayton, who initially declined to comment on the topic Wednesday, saying he needed more time to examine the data, said Thursday that he was calling on all state leaders to “redouble efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate” racial disparities.
“I am very distressed by these findings, both because of the increase in the percentage of black Minnesotans who are below the poverty level, and also because of the completely unacceptable disparity between black and white Minnesotans,” Dayton said in a statement. “As governor, it is ultimately my responsibility to ensure that our government serves the needs of all Minnesotans and that our state provides full and equal opportunities to all of our citizens.”
Dayton and two members of his cabinet on Thursday pointed to the administration’s recent efforts at boosting the diversity of the state’s workforce, as well as its contracting and procurement processes.
The governor in January issued an executive order that instructed state agencies to more aggressively recruit and retain diverse managers. To that end, the state hired a recruiter whose job is to match diverse candidates with management jobs, said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans.
“The executive recruiter position was designed to jump-start hiring at the upper management levels,” Frans said. “We feel that might help attract more candidates, and frankly help in the inclusion aspect, to make sure [rank-and-file workers] have leaders around” who reflect their race.
State government is among Minnesota’s largest employers, with more than 35,000 full-time positions, and should lead by example, Frans said. He provided figures that show minorities make up 14 percent of all workers statewide and 9 percent of those employed by state agencies.
Blacks make up 5.9 percent of the state’s population and 4.6 percent of all workers in Minnesota. Frans said that blacks account for 3.8 percent of workers in state agencies.