City and county officials are looking into providing food, labor and transportation programs to curb heightened levels of racial disparities between the black and white populations in Dane County, after recent reports revealed the county has higher levels of inequality than the national disparity rate.
According to the Race to Equity report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, in the last 12 months African Americans in Dane County were almost 5.5 times more likely to be jobless than their white counterparts. In comparison, the national African American unemployment rate average is only slightly higher than twice that of the white population.
Dane County Supervisor Mary Kolar, District 1, said employers must ask themselves what they are doing to reach out to minorities for employment. Kolar said she suggests employers take a more active role in reaching out to the African American community.
Kolar said the county will propose an employment program to address the race disparities in labor, noting that Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has proposed a “Dane County Work Apprenticeship Program” to increase training and work experience opportunities.
The poverty gap in Dane County between the black population and the white population is even greater than the unemployment gap, according to the report. Dane County’s black children were approximately 13 times more likely to grow up in poverty than white children.
The report also showed a hightened disparity in graduation rates and college attendance between black and white students in Dane County. The report found in 2011, African American students in the Madison Public School District had about a 50 percent on-time graduation rate as opposed to 85 percent for white students.
Black students were also less likely to take the ACT exam and those who did scored an average of six points lower, and black students in Dane County public schools were 15 times more likely to be suspended than a white student, the report said.
Katie Crawley, Mayor Soglin’s spokesperson, said the Mayor looks to address the racial disparities in Madison through a variety of angles.
“He tries to look at everything through a lens of equity,” Crawley said. “How is this going to help the entire community? He asks, ‘Is there going to be exercise for kids, transportation, access to jobs, access to healthy food?’”
Crawley said the issues of education and transportation and the need to increase the involvement of black neighborhoods in the Madison community is something being discussed. She said Soglin seeks to work closely with the school district, in particular to encourage activities outside of school hours.
The city is also making sure there are no disparities in the availability of transportation in certain neighborhoods, Crawley said, citing the Owl Creek neighborhood, which is relatively new and has been isolated entirely from the bus system for years. Students and teachers from the community gathered and spoke with City Council, and as a result the transportation system was extended to the neighborhood, Crawley said.
As far as healthy food, the city is also considering bringing food carts in once a week to certain neighborhoods in order to provide a place for the community to gather, Crawley said. The city may look into providing vouchers for school children to use at those food carts, she said.
Mark Woulf, Food and Alcohol Policy coordinator for the city of Madison said the Food Policy Council in the city is working to increase nutrition and education throughout the city, as well as ensure underserved neighborhoods have access to healthy foods in their grocery stores.
Kolar said the county has taken these recent report findings seriously and is working to address the issue .
“Addressing the dramatic racial disparity in Dane County needs to remain a top priority for all,” Kolar said.