CINCINNATI -- The problem is our racial divide. The time to address it is now.
That’s the message of All-In Cincinnati, a coalition behind a new report called “All-In Cincinnati: Equity Is the Path to Inclusive Prosperity.” The report details Greater Cincinnati’s racial and economic disparities, how they hurt the region and what needs to change to bring about equity.
Among the findings:
• The unemployment rate for black workers in Hamilton County is almost three times the unemployment rate for white workers. Even among residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, black workers are more than twice as likely as white workers to be unemployed.
• Among the county’s college-educated workers, black workers earn an average of $23 per hour, which is $6 per hour less than what white workers earn on average.
• And the Cincinnati metropolitan area’s annual gross domestic product would have been $9.9 billion higher in 2014 if minority residents’ incomes were comparable to their white neighbors.
Education, housing and even health care all figure into the complex problem of inequity, the report says. But institutionalized racism is the thread that runs through all of it, members of the coalition told WCPO, and it doesn't hurt only racial minorities.
“It has an impact on everybody,” said Eileen Cooper Reed, a community activist who is a facilitator for All-In Cincinnati and a member of the coalition’s core team. “You have a healthy economy, you tend to have a healthy school system. You tend to have access to health care, you tend to have all those things which make all families safe and thriving.”
Members of the coalition recognize some Greater Cincinnati residents will think the report’s findings don’t apply to them.
“If someone is hearing all this and still thinking that they are OK, that’s fine and it’s expected, but it could be better,” said Rick Williams, CEO of the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati and an All-In Cincinnati core team member. “And all of us can say it can be better.”
After all, how many other strategies could offer the potential of a $10 billion annual boost to the region’s economy, said Ellen Katz, a member of the All-In Cincinnati coalition and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which has helped fund the coalition’s work.
“That’s really what we’re sort of set out to do,” she said. “To have that benefit, that economic benefit, be part of everyone’s experience.”
How to get there
To get that result, the coalition recommends a focus on improving the economic condition of black women in the region.
The report offers several reasons for that.
Like Cincinnati, Hamilton County has seen its population grow in recent years. The increase has come entirely from growth in black, mixed-race, Latino and Asian or Pacific Islander residents.
That growth is expected to continue. Hamilton County’s population, which the report notes was 80 percent white in 1980, is predicted to consist mostly of racial and ethnic minorities by 2040. That’s four years earlier than the nation as a whole is projected to become “majority minority.”
The county’s fastest growing ethnic and racial groups also tend to be younger: 43 percent of county residents younger than 18 are racial or ethnic minorities compared with only 21 percent of residents who are 65 years old or older.
All of that, the report said, makes it more important than ever to ensure Hamilton County’s minority residents can be part of the region’s economic success. That has been particularly difficult for black and Latina women.
In Ohio, 19 percent of working black women and 19 percent of working Latina women between the ages of 25 and 64 are considered “working poor.” That means they work full time and earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $41,560 for a family of three.
Only 8 percent of white women in the same age group in Ohio fall into that category, the report said.
All-In Cincinnati decided to focus on black women, Katz said, “because we feel the ripple effect is the greatest.”
Williams put it this way: “If we start to look at health care and the economic benefits of improving access to health care and how that can impact everyone, it is not just that African-American women now have the ability to afford medications.”
Equity as a growth strategy
The report’s policy recommendations include:
• Increasing employment opportunities on publicly funded construction projects.
• Expanding opportunities for minority-owned businesses, especially those owned by minority women.
• Encouraging the region’s hospitals and other “anchor institutions” to employ more people from their neighborhoods.
• Raising the minimum wage.
• Increasing the number of apprenticeships.
• Eliminating questions about salary histories on job applications and in interviews.
• Increasing the training available for workers without much education.
• Eliminating zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools.
• Strengthening kindergarten through 12th grade education.
• Increasing the region’s affordable housing.
• Funding more community health workers.
• And adopting eviction protections and rent control policies.
The recommendations build upon the work that many other organizations have been doing locally for years, Cooper Reed stressed.
They cover such a broad range of issues that there is plenty of opportunity for concerned members of the community to get involved and help, Williams said.
“Our work is moving toward policies that can make equity matter,” he said.
The goal of All-In Cincinnati is to help the community see the important role that equity plays in addressing all of these complex problems, Katz said.
“Equity’s not something on top of everything else or something different,” she said. “It’s the foundation.”
Cincinnati isn’t the only community with racial and economic disparities, of course.
“PolicyLink really does look at racial equity and the pursuit of it as any community’s most superior growth strategy,” Katz said.
It’s the only strategy, the organization argues, that could give Cincinnati’s economy a $10 billion annual boost.
Yes, All-In Cincinnati’s policy recommendations aim to help black women, who often feel the region’s racial and economic inequities most acutely.
But helping them will make the region a better place for everyone to live, Cooper Reed said, and All-In Cincinnati wants people from throughout the community involved in the movement to make that happen.
How you can get involved
“I believe the community has to change before its institutions change,” she said. “It is institutional and structural racism that is baked in that people don’t even understand, and that is a part of it. It is a conversation that the community needs to have, and part of it is beginning to have those conversations.”
The coalition aims to begin the broader community conversation on Friday.
That’s when All-In Cincinnati will formally release its report and recommendations at an event called “Educate. Motivate. Move: A Path to Inclusive Prosperity in our Region” scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Oct. 19 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Speakers will include Michael McAfee, the president of PolicyLink, and panel of women who are local leaders in business, politics and the nonprofit sector.
The goal is to bring together people who are passionate about all facets of the work that All-In Cincinnati says the region needs to do so they can focus on the policy areas that most interest them, Cooper Reed said.
All-In Cincinnati has not calculated a price tag for the total cost of all its recommendations, Williams said, and that is by design.
“We are not in this to create programs,” he added, because the programs already exist for the most part. “We will have strategies around what are the policies that make the budgets that are already being spent more effective and more equitable.”
The key, Cooper Reed said, is coming to grips with the understanding that the region must change to be successful in the future. She likes to use the analogy of a lake.
“If you are at the lake, and you see one fish die, you say, ‘I wonder what’s wrong with that fish,’” she said. “But if half of the fish in the lake bubble up to the top dead, you ask, ‘What’s the matter with this lake?’”
The work of All-In Cincinnati, Williams said, is “lake work.” The key, he said, will be getting enough people in the community to understand that removing the toxins will make the lake better for all the life it supports, no matter what the fish look like.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.