After comparing indicators of economic status for African-Americans in Madison to other cities across the nation, Mayor Paul Soglin concluded this week in a report that “economic conditions are improving" for African-Americans in the city, although the data is unreliable.
Soglin’s report reflects 2015 American Community Survey data released in September for Madison, along with comparison analysis from the city’s Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development. In an email sent Thursday, Soglin said he acknowledges the report is a work in progress and noted that the findings reflect one year data and that data for the city is often unreliable due to a small sample size.
Soglin's report followed his statements at a Sep. 26 Board of Estimates meeting that “it is absolutely false” to say that Madison is among the worst communities in the United States when it comes to racial disparities. It also comes after Soglin’s repeated concerns about the 2013 Race to Equity report that found “alarming” racial disparities in Dane County.
“And not only that, but a review of economic progress in the last five years shows that we are probably among the best, if not the best in the United States, in terms of improving both household income as well as lowering the number of families who are living below the poverty line,” Soglin said in the report distributed by email.
He released the data after sharing it with community leaders, including members of the Race to Equity team, on Oct. 5.
More African-Americans in the city live in poverty, 31.6 percent, compared to 14.1 percent of white city residents, the data released Thursday shows. However five-year ACS data from 2010-2014 on poverty shows that nearly 50 percent of black individuals were living in poverty compared to 16.1 percent of whites, a wider disparity.
Soglin's report also shows 24 percent of black families living in poverty, compared to 3.1 percent of white families. It further concludes that the median income for white households is $62,673 and $41,003 for black households.
When compared to other cities, Madison fared better than Portland, St. Paul and Minneapolis in terms of the percentage of African-American individuals and households living in poverty and worse than Seattle and Winston-Salem, according to Soglin's report. Madison's median household income is also higher than every other comparison city except for Winston-Salem.
Madison typically showed more positive economic indicators for African-Americans than across Wisconsin, but worse across the nation.
Soglin said he has disputed the Race to Equity report’s economic indicator data since the analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families was released in 2013 but does not deny that there are disparities in the Madison community.
“Some people make this tremendous leap that you’re now denying that there’s inequity in the community. That’s not the case,” Soglin said at an Oct. 3 meeting with department heads.
In addition to concerns that incomplete data could complicate informing and measuring the success of strategies addressing disparities, Soglin said describing Madison as the worst in the country stymies the city’s progress.
“That has a stigma to it which is very difficult to shake and can slow down our progress if people believe it to be true and consequently act upon it,” Soglin said at the Oct. 3 meeting.
Erica Nelson, Race to Equity project director, emphasized that the mayor's report looked at city data, while the Race to Equity report analyzed county data.
"We cannot say we are moving the needle on racial disparities if we are only looking at narrow data in one or two indicators," she said. "It’s a much more complex, nuanced issue."
The Race to Equity results were measured across 40 indicators of well-being, using data gathered between 2007 and 2011 — a comprehensive look at a complicated issue, said Nelson.
In the Race to Equity report, African-Americans fared much worse than whites across nearly every indicator. The report found that African-Americans were 5.5 times more likely than whites to be unemployed in Dane County, three-quarters of the county’s African-American children were living in poverty, and half of all black high school students did not graduate on time, compared to 16 percent of their white peers.
Other findings showed African-American children were 15 times more likely than their white counterparts to land in foster care, and African-American youth are six times more likely to be arrested.
In a statement released Oct. 13, the Race to Equity team disputed claims that they were working to release a joint report with the mayor, but are continuing to work with the mayor’s office on racial disparity data.
“Ultimately, the goal of our work is to eliminate racial disparities in our community, and to do so in such a way that increases the experiences of well-being and justice for every one of us,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, we have not reached this goal yet as a community, and there is much work that remains. That is our commitment, priority and mission.”
The Race to Equity team plans to release an updated report in 2017.
Soglin said in his report that the Race to Equity Report was a “much needed and vital wakeup call,” but emphasized Madison is not the worst community in Wisconsin or the United States for African-Americans. However, he said despite improvement, significant disparities remain.
“Addressing these disparities is a matter of urgency, particularly the economic and education challenges since they are part of the solution to the health and justice challenges,” Soglin said in the email.
Dane County Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson cautioned this is not a “time to celebrate" progress on disparities.
“When you see parents and you see families struggling and you see the disparities in employment, it’s real,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if if we can blame the city or town of Madison or the city of Fitchburg. I think we have to figure out as a region how to respond to those issues.”