A report released Thursday highlights Wisconsin’s severe racial disparities spanning measures of poverty, unemployment, educational attainment and incarceration.
The Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a self-described “think-and-do-tank,” is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and promotes “high road” solutions to social problems. The report's authors analyzed 2015 data from a variety of public sources including the American Community survey and the Department of Education.
Wisconsin ranks among the worst states in terms of racial equality, the report found. Gaps are extreme and are not isolated to one area.
“The gap in economic and educational outcomes between black and white Wisconsinites is not inevitable, but instead has widened over the past thirty years,” COWS associate director Laura Dresser said. “We hope that this report will support the work of so many advocates in the state working to close these gaps and build a more inclusive Wisconsin.”
In terms of economic opportunity, Wisconsin is the third worst state for African American unemployment. Nearly 12 percent of African-American workers were unemployed, defined as actively seeking work but unable to find jobs, in 2015 compared to 3.9 percent of white workers.
The state ranks as nearly the worst — second only to Illinois — for the highest racial disparity rates in the labor force and third in the nation for racial inequalities in household income.
Black families in Wisconsin are 5.3 times more likely than white families to live in poverty — the second highest in the nation, according to the report. Additionally, almost half of African American children in the sate live in poverty and are 3.8 times as likely as white children to live in poverty.
Educational racial disparities in Wisconsin are dramatic and are important indicators of the results of economic disparity and a predictor for future disparities, researchers argue. In the 2014-15 school year, the state was the worst in the country in eighth grade math standardized test scores.
Also in that year, white students were five times more likely than black students to be proficient on the test. Disparities continue through graduation with only 64 percent of black students graduating compared to 93 percent of white students — that gap is the highest in the nation.
According to 2014 data, more African Americans in Wisconsin are incarcerated than whites with a ratio of 11.5 black prisoners to one white prisoner. Wisconsin is second only to New Jersey in this category.
The only category Wisconsin did not rank among the very worst in the nation is in health insurance coverage, though disparities are still evident. Wisconsin African Americans are 1.8 times more likely than whites to go without health insurance.
Though several reports have documented the state’s gaping racial disparities, including the widely shared Race to Equity report, COWS researchers argue too few people understand just how pronounced racial inequities are in Wisconsin.
“We hope that by updating this litany of disparity we can help contribute to a sense of urgency and increased attention to these issues,” the report reads. “In particular, this report seeks to support and fuel the efforts of so many who are organizing, strategizing and working to close the gap.”