The Minneapolis non-effect

The Washington Post notes that, although “taxes, for decades, have been redistributed from wealthy suburbs to poorer communities [in Minneapolis] to combat inequality. . .the prosperity fueled by the region’s Fortune 500 companies and progressive policies has not translated into economic equality.” On the contrary, “the wealth gap between Minneapolis’s largely white population and the city’s black residents has deepened, producing some of the nation’s widest racial disparities in income, employment and home-ownership.”

The Post offers an explanation — “structural racism.”

Economists, lawyers and civil rights advocates in the Twin Cities say progressive tax policies could not make up for other aspects of structural racism, such as access to credit or jobs. Some say investments in affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods deepened segregation and poverty. Others argue for better enforcement of federal laws to combat discrimination in lending, employment and housing.

There is an alternative explanation. It might be that, to a disproportionate degree, African-Americans in Minneapolis aren’t doing the things required to become successful. Things like finishing high school and college, not having children while in the teens, raising children in two-parent homes, avoiding drug use, and abstaining from crime.

The Post never considers this possible explanation. Rather, Post reporter Tracy Jan dismisses it, quoting unnamed “civil rights and community leaders in the Twin Cities” who say that a “focus on fixing things perceived to be wrong in the black community,” instead of “fundamentally reshaping underlying inequities in society” is what’s preventing “racial equity.”

But what if a core “inequity in society” is the way children are raised in the black community?

Jan herself equates the “delivering of racial justice” with the elimination of the disparities in income, employment, and home-ownership she describes. In other words, for Jan there is no racial justice as long as a “wealth gap” exists between Blacks and Whites. It doesn’t matter how much of the gap is explained by differences in behavior.

This is an absurd account of “racial justice.” Distributing wealth on the basis of race, without regard to merit, is the opposite of justice — any kind of justice.

Is Minneapolis’ African-American population, viewed collectively, behaving differently than its white one in ways that might affect its economic status? A 2010 report showed that Blacks in Minnesota were being arrested in numbers that far exceeded their representation in the state’s population. The same was true for violent felony convictions.

I haven’t found Minneapolis or Minnesota-specific data on parenting by race. Nationwide, more than one-third of all black children under the age of 18 live with unmarried mothers, compared to 6.5 percent of white children.

What about graduating from high school? In 2012, 84 percent of white students in Minnesota accomplished this, compared to only 51 percent of black students. The 51 percent mark was the lowest for Blacks in any state in America.

Given disparities like these, it’s not surprising that Minneapolis’ progressive policies haven’t translated into “economic equality.”

For me the interesting question is why, at least according to Jan, Minneapolis has “some of the nation’s widest racial disparities in income housing and home-ownership.” Ed Morrissey suggests, quite plausibly, that the answer is one-party governance by Democrats:

Other than Louisiana, the worst states and territories for income inequality were all states not just that vote Democrat in presidential elections, but have become Democratic one-party fiefdoms. All of them have applied progressive policies in the same way the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota have, most of them for decades. And the results have been uniformly the same — failure and decline, at least in terms of inequality.

It’s also possible that the larger wealth gap in Minneapolis is a function of the city’s general prosperity. In a strong economy, members of all races get a lift. However, it’s very likely that those who do the things needed to take advantage of the general prosperity will get a bigger lift than those who don’t, so that income inequality increases. Thus, if one group of citizens is doing these things to a greater degree than another group, we shouldn’t be surprised if the wealth gap between the two groups grows.

Jan gives the final word to Steven Belton, president and chief executive of the Urban League Twin Cities. He insists that “Minnesota works for white people at the expense of black people.”

Maybe. But Jan’s article doesn’t disprove this thesis: Minnesota works for people of all races who do the things that have always worked to bring about individual success.

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