2014 Justice Lecture: "Economic Justice for All"
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Esq., addressed the sixth annual St. Kate’s – St. Thomas School of Social Work Justice Lecture on March 18. Levy-Pounds is a University of St. Thomas professor of law and founding director of the Community Justice Project and was the chair of the MN Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The findings of this committee’s report, Unemployment Disparity in Minnesota in 2013, were highlighted in Levy-Pound’s presentation on Economic Justice for All.
The committee report documented large racial disparities in key quality of life indicators: employment, income, poverty rates, home ownership, education and, she added, incarceration.
“Minnesota has the largest gap of unemployment between Blacks and Whites in the nation,” Levy-Pounds said. As reported in the study, only 6 percent of Whites in Minnesota are unemployed, whereas unemployment among African Americans in Minnesota is 22 percent.
In Minnesota, the average White household earned more than $55,000, while the average African American household earned $27,000. More than 37 percent of African Americans in Minnesota live in poverty, compared to the roughly eight percent of Whites. Levy-Pounds noted that “Only Mississippi and Louisiana have higher African American poverty rates than Minnesota.” In addition, more
than 75 percent of Whites in Minnesota own homes, compared to only 20 percent of African Americans, a critical factor since “home ownership has been paramount within our society for transferring wealth from one generation to the next.”
Education disparity is another area in which Minnesota ranks among the worst in the nation. While 85 percent of White students graduate from high school, only 57 percent of African American students receive their diploma. American Indians in Minnesota have the lowest graduation rate at 48.8%. Levy-Pounds noted that even when African Americans earn a bachelor’s degree, they are still two times more likely to be unemployed than their White
counterparts with the same degree.
The findings of the study reinforce a 2010 report by Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute, which Levy-Pounds cited as “a wakeup call that racial disparities in unemployment threaten the future viability of our state and must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In her address, she added that we must “collectively resolve to use our time, talents, and resources to close the disturbing gaps and to work towards equity and justice for those who lack access to equal opportunity.”
During her remarks, she emphasized that the status quo needs to be changed through targeted initiatives to develop employment opportunities, provide housing, and assure access to quality education.
Levy-Pounds further illustrated how education disparities play a role in the school-to-prison pipeline. She said that 1 in 15 African American men are incarcerated while only 1 in 106 White men are incarcerated. These numbers reflect the incarceration crisis the United States is experiencing. According to Levy-Pounds, “We incarcerate more individuals than any other country.”
Levy-Pounds challenged social workers to have a stronger voice in critical conversations about policy regarding these issues. “Social workers are closer to a lot of the people who are experiencing economic injustice,” Levy-Pounds said. “We need social workers to translate and articulate some of the frustrations, the pain, and the trends that they’re seeing out there.”
The full report is available at: http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/MNSAC_Unemployment_Final_3.pdf