Policymakers from across the state have begun to pay more attention to Minnesota’s open secret: our economic success story often leaves out Minnesotans of color. Policymakers began an important dialogue between legislative sessions about ways we can reduce racial disparities. Voices for Racial Justice, a group that has been working to build a more equitable Minnesota for more than 20 years, recently released the 2016 version of their Racial Equity Agenda, a policy blueprint for a more equitable state.
Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities got a fresh dose of attention after the most recent Census data highlighted a stunning decrease in the income of black Minnesotan families. A Legislative Working Group on Economic Disparities met in January to discuss ways to address racial opportunity gaps. More recently, in his supplemental budget, Governor Mark Dayton included a $33 million proposal to explicitly address racial disparities, with details to be filled in after community input. An additional $67 million in the governor’s supplemental budget is geared towards investments with a strong equity component. Examples of those investments include efforts that support workers and business owners of color, and homebuyer assistance aimed at reducing the racial homeownership gap.
The Racial Equity Agenda, which has more than 60 supporting organizations, contains 33 policy suggestions for a more equitable Minnesota. These recommendations cover nearly every area of state government with implications for every corner of Minnesota, from our infrastructure for clean water to our voter registration laws. Among many other policy proposals, the agenda includes calls to:
- Increase state investments in Basic Sliding Fee, a source of child care assistance that disproportionately serves families of color but has a waiting list of more than 6,500 families;
- Provide access to public health insurance for undocumented immigrants, many of whom currently lack an affordable source of health care despite making vital contributions to our economy;
- Make earned safe and sick time available at work for the 1.1 million Minnesotans who currently lack it, including 47 percent of African American and 60 percent of Hispanic workers;
- Offer driver’s licenses to all, regardless of their immigration status, so that our roads are safer and so that workers are better able to find and get to jobs that fit their skills.
The Racial Equity Agenda’s formal release took place in a grand old church across the street from the Capitol, with an audience that reflected one of Minnesota’s greatest strengths: our state’s increasing diversity. If Minnesota is to retain our nation-leading economy, we’ve got to build on that strength and ensure that ladders to the middle class are built in every kind of neighborhood. For those who are interested in creating that future — one where Census data will show a Minnesota whose communities are growing closer together instead of further apart — the Racial Equity Agenda should be required reading.