Wisconsin ranks among the worst states in the country for racial disparity in key economic and societal measures including unemployment, poverty, education and imprisonment, according to a report from a national think tank based at UW-Madison.
Using 2015 data, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy report highlights a divergence in opportunities for black and white populations across Wisconsin’s labor market, ranking within the top-three states for highest economic disparity in numerous categories.
Ranking third-most disparate in the nation, statistics showed black people as being nearly four times more likely than whites to be unemployed in Wisconsin.
An even starker contrast was shown in Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate—the share of adults actively looking for a job—which came in second place for highest racial disparity. The state’s black labor participation rate fell 9 percent behind that of whites.
A trend of economic inequality extends to household earnings and standard of living in Wisconsin, with the state ranking third-worst for racial disparity in income and second-worst in poverty.
Black households earned a median annual income of about half that of white households and lived in poverty at a rate of 31 percent compared with 5.8 percent for whites. Black children were disproportionately affected by economic disparities, with almost half of those under 18 living below the poverty line.
The report also showed dramatic racial inequalities between people in Wisconsin educational and prison institutions.
The state ranked worst for racial disparity in both high school graduation rates and middle school math proficiency. The high school graduation rate for white students was 93 percent, compared with 64 percent for black students. Standardized testing data showed white eighth graders as five times more likely to earn a “proficient” score in math than black eighth graders.
Wisconsin also has the second-worst incarceration ratio, with 2014 data showing 11.5 black prisoners for every one white prisoner in the state.
Racial disparity in Wisconsin is “not inevitable,” COWS notes in the report.
“Thirty years ago the state generated much better economic outcomes for African Americans, a population group that did better in the state than the national average,” the report notes. “Opportunities and outcomes have diverged, however, to the disturbing chasm that now confronts the state.”