Study Finds Racial Gaps Putting RI’s Economy, Future at Risk
Thursday, February 21, 2013
At least, that’s the conclusion reached in a new study released yesterday by PolicyLink, a California-based nonprofit organization, and PERE, the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California.
In one of two reports analyzing the state’s economic development data and Rhode Island’s social equity as a whole, the organization examined the demographics of Rhode Island and, with the help of national data including the most recent US Census, attempted to address how the state is doing on measures of economic growth and well-being, particularly for members of its minority population.
The report concluded that Rhode Island is seeing a growing racial/ethnic populace, with the percentage of its residents that are people of color increasing 21 percent since 1980. In addition, it said, the state has grown in overall population in recent years—rising from 947,000 to 1,053,000— but almost all of that growth has come from communities of color.
Cause for Concern
The figures, and the prediction that people of color will make up 41 percent of Rhode Island by the year 2040, reveal an alarming trend when an analysis is performed on the current economic climate for minority residents of the state.
“Although wages have increased across the board for full-time workers since 1979, top earners have seen the highest increases and the state’s middle-class is shrinking,” the report said. “Since 1990, poverty and working poverty in Rhode Island have remained below the national averages, but rates are much higher among people of color compared to whites.”
The report said that while educational attainment can level the field, “economic gaps persist for communities of color, who have higher unemployment rates, lower wages, and less access to high-opportunity occupations than whites at nearly every education level.”
In addition, among college graduates, wages are six dollars lower per hour for minority workers than white workers.
“Latinos suffer from the highest unemployment rates, but the state’s black population also has a disproportionately
high rate,” the study found. “The 2007 recession had less of an effect on the Latino population than unemployment conditions in the early 80s, and vice versa for the Asian/Pacific Islanders. For black and White populations, unemployment is consistent with 30 years ago.”
A Snapshot of RI
PolicyLink and PERE said Rhode Island’s largest employers, with over 40,000 employees, are in Health Care and Social Assistance, Retail, Accommodation and Food Services and Manufacturing.
The state’s fastest growing sectors, with at least 20 percent growth in the last decade, were Management of Companies and Enterprises, Education and Health Care and Social Assistance while the highest wages, of at least $70,000 per year, could be found in the Utilities, Finance and Insurance and Management of Companies and Enterprises Sectors.
Looking at these figures, the organizations concluded there is a “significant” skills and education gap in the state, with a larger portion of jobs requiring Associate Degrees or higher and not enough people with the requisite education level available, especially among people of color.
Racial gaps were also present in key factors regarding housing, transportation and health of minority workers.
A Number of Suggestions
To help close some of those gaps, the report made a number of suggestions as to where Rhode Island should focus its efforts.
First, it said, the Ocean State must bridge its racial generation gap by planning for “complete, multigenerational communities” which are inclusive for residents of all ages and racial groups. Currently, minorities are making up larger portions of the state’s youngest residents while the state’s older population tends to skew more white.
“This will allow the elderly to age in place at the same time as provide safe and healthy environments for families to raise children,” the report said.
PolicyLink and PERE say the state should also focus on growing jobs in “high-opportunity” sectors and needs to connect unemployed and low-wage workers to careers in industries that are showing high-growth.
In addition, to combat some of the issues facing African America and Latino residents, the study recommends focusing on educational pathways for minority students as well as targeting the health of communities as a whole and expanding transportation choices for commuters and non-commuters alike, particularly in areas currently suffering from limited options and/or mobility.
“To create a sustainable state,” the report said. “Rhode Island must coordinate transportation, housing, and economic development investments to address concentrated poverty, segregation, housing and transportation burdens—all of which have disproportionately negative effects on communities of color.”
The conclusion reached by PolicyLink and PERE was that the Ocean State needs to target issues of racial inequality as a means for improving its economic climate as a whole.
“To secure a prosperous future, the state’s leaders must take steps to build a more equitable and sustainable economy,” it said. “Growing good jobs, connecting unemployed and low-wage workers to training, jobs and careers, and building communities of opportunity throughout the state are critical strategies for putting all of Rhode Island’s residents on the path toward reaching their full potential.”
To read the full report, click here.