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Friday, February 23, 2024

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Black Dane County residents face ‘profound and persistent’ racial disparities, report finds

Black Dane County residents experience disparities in economic, education and health outcomes due to persistent systemic racism, according to a report from civic advocacy group Kids Forward.

Black Dane County residents experience “profound and persistent” disparities in income, education and health outcomes, according to a report from an anti-racist nonprofit organization. 

A 10-year report released last Thursday by statewide anti-racist policy center and civic advocacy group Kids Forward found Black Dane County residents suffer disparities because of longstanding systemic racism in the community’s businesses, schools and laws. 

The report, a follow-up to the nonprofit’s 2013 Race to Equity findings, used over 40 indicators to measure disparities in life outcomes between Black and white residents.

The report found Black residents experience lower median incomes, more difficulty buying a home and higher rates of unemployment compared to white residents.

“Black and low-wage-earning residents are not experiencing the shared prosperity that working, paying taxes and being an asset to the community and the workforce should afford them,” the report read.

A key instrument of these disparities is a history of policies that have disenfranchised the Black community by catering to the interests of wealthy white residents, the report concluded.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued a public statement on the report Friday, emphasizing the city’s commitment to expanding crucial citywide bus services and investing in affordable housing and public facilities to alleviate the racial divide.

“While our city and our region have made progress in addressing some aspects of those racial disparities, it is not nearly enough and we must do better,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Kids Forward recommended the city expand its guaranteed income pilot program to all of Dane County in order to alleviate disparities found in the report. 

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi expressed support for expanding the program to countywide service but said funding the program remains a concern. 

“Funding is always the biggest challenge for the city and the county,” Parisi said. “That’s why we would certainly need partners from the federal government to the local businesses community [and] charitable organizations.”

Beyond economic concerns, the report revealed lower educational prospects for Black students.

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According to the report, Black students scored lower on standardized tests, changed schools more often and reported lower feelings of safety than white students. Additionally, overcrowding in classes, lacking mental health services and persistent staff shortages create an atmosphere that puts Black students at a disadvantage.

Kaleem Caire, the founder of charter school One City Schools, said part of the issue stems from a lack of Black educators in Dane County classrooms.

“The racial dynamic is that we’re not graduating enough people of color from high school, let alone college, to be teachers in classrooms,” Caire said.

Early childhood care is often unaffordable for Black households, and funding challenges in the Wisconsin Department of Instruction leave school districts understaffed and unable to provide adequate mental health resources for their students, the report read.

The report also found Black residents statewide faced worse health outcomes, with respondents reporting being in fair or poor health at a rate twice as high as white residents.

The report recommended the Legislature expand the state’s Medicaid program to alleviate health disparities.

“Wisconsin’s downright refusal to expand Medicaid due to partisan politics, racism and classist tropes have hurt residents across the state, contributing to high medical bills, late stage [diagnoses] for chronic diseases, disproportionately higher maternal mortality rates for Black women and the closure of rural hospitals,” the report said.

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