Features November 2018

Racial Inequity Study Lays Groundwork for Auction

Written By: Hector H. Sandoval & Mark Girson

In 2017, a group of community leaders commissioned a report on racial inequity in Alachua County. The Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) at the University of Florida led this project in collaboration with the UF Program for Resource Efficient Communities.

BEBR completed the report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in Alachua County,” in January and presented the results to groups of local leaders and community members. Our report focuses on eight dimensions of well-being:

  • Economic well-being
  • Education
  • Child welfare
  • Family structure
  • The justice system
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Transportation

The study had the benefit of being specific – going beyond the general recognition that disparities exist in these areas. It showed the extent to which minority people lagged behind non-Hispanic whites in the county.

Key findings were:

African-Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed compared to non-Hispanic whites, while Asians and Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely.

The percentage of African-Americans living in poverty was 35.7 percent and for Hispanics was 31.2 percent, which compares to 19.7 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

African-Americans are less likely to complete high school than other racial groups. A total of 66.8 percent of African-American students graduate from high school, while 85 percent of non-Hispanic white students do.

African-American students have the highest rate of out-of-school suspension. They are 5.2 times more likely to be suspended compared to non-Hispanic whites.

These disparities are important factors that contributed to stark differences in the involvement of minorities with the criminal justice system. One measure of that difference is that African-American teens are 9.9 times more likely to be detained and 6.9 times more likely to get arrested compared to non-Hispanic white teens.

We also found significant differences in minorities’ access to health and in their health status. For example, African-Americans are 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to non-Hispanic whites.

In housing, minorities have a higher percentage of households experiencing at least one problem with the quality and condition of their housing.

We were struck by the disparity in the burden of energy costs. African-American households pay 11.3 percent of their income in utilities compared to 7.9 percent for white households.

After we finished the study, we presented the results to many groups. Although people we met with generally knew that racial disparities exist in Alachua County, many of them were surprised by how extensive and how large these disparities are.

The study was eye-opening, and the community responded with a call to action by raising the question, “What do we do next?”

In our report, we highlighted the importance of improving minorities’ access to quality education and to more jobs that pay a living wage.

Indeed, improving the educational experience will make an impact in getting good jobs and in making more money over a lifetime. Also, jobs can potentially lift people out of poverty in the short run, improve educational outcomes and reduce crime.

When we met with the community, people spoke about another need for action. That need is to improve peoples’ awareness of their own racial prejudice, and how conscious or unconscious biases contribute to unfair treatment of minorities.

The community members noted the important role that families play in promoting values. They also pointed out that employers can make a difference. In fact, some employers are promoting awareness of implicit bias that can result in unintentional discrimination.

Community members stressed the importance of providing role models for minority youth. These role models can encourage students to pursue higher education, which can help them be more prosperous over their lifetime.

The report showed that racial inequity is a massive tangle of interconnected issues, and our community meetings helped deepen understanding of the breadth and depth of racial disparities.

This understanding not only helps existing service providers to do a better job, but it also helps in designing new initiatives for reducing the disparities.

The entire Greater Gainesville community needs to contribute to addressing the issues that the report raised. It is essential for people to take action, both individually and as part of businesses, educational institutions and community organizations.

As the discussion in the community continues with forums such as town hall meetings and with this special edition of Businesses in Greater Gainesville, among many other initiatives, we hope for a decline and eventual elimination of racial disparities in the county.

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