The state budget: Another chance to work toward racial equity for children and families

Over 35 years ago when I launched a career in advocacy, I was a little dismayed to learn that one of my tasks was to monitor and analyze the state budget. For a young social worker intent on creating change, it seemed a dry and “wonky” pursuit.

I soon learned that control over the state’s purse strings is one of the greatest powers lawmakers have, and that a high level of civic and community engagement is necessary for real change to occur. And, I found a home in the Michigan League for Public Policy—an organization that is focused like a laser on racial and economic justice and understands that the state budget is a potent tool for achieving it.

Next week Governor Rick Snyder will release his budget for 2019, and the Michigan Legislature will begin to craft its own. The League will be in the Capitol during every step of the process, and will be sharing that information with you. We will be advocating for our prioritiessteps we believe the state must take to achieve racial equity and ensure that all children and families thrive in Michigan. More importantly, we want to be a resource to you as you communicate with your elected officials about what you, your family and your community need.

Budget priorities_Address Racial Ethnic Social JusticeTogether, we have a long way to go. The data are clear and well-documented in the League’s Kids Count reports. Families and children of color are being held back from many of the traditional pathways to economic opportunity and security. Michigan, like the rest of the country, is growing in diversity and its economy rests on the ability to make sure that all children have what it takes to move the state forward.

At the heart of racial and ethnic disparities is a long history of systemic barriers including the historical impact of redlining on homeownership, segregation in public schools, differences in educational quality and opportunity, racial discrimination in the workplace, and inequities in the ability to accumulate assets and build wealth.

Those inequities persist today in part because of state budgets and other public policies that do not recognize the extra resources required to overcome the cumulative effects of racism and discrimination. State budgets are not “colorblind”—even if their disproportionate impact is unintended. For example, despite the reality that children of color are two to three times more likely to live in poverty, state funding for programs to ensure that children’s basic needs are met has plummeted—largely because of state policies that restrict eligibility.

As a first step, the League is calling on state lawmakers to incorporate an analysis of the racial, ethnic and social justice impact of budget decisions they are making. We believe that a concerted effort to face racial and ethnic inequities head-on is required or they will continue to be perpetuated.

Please join us in advocating for a state budget that creates better equity for children and families. Check out our resources including tips for influencing the state budget, fact sheets on our budget priorities for 2019, and an analysis of the current state budget’s impact on children and families of color. By joining forces we can make change.

— Pat Sorenson

Two generation policies offer support for parents and kids

On Monday, October 26th, the Michigan League for Public Policy held our annual meeting and public policy forum, “Secure Parents and Successful Kids.” We were joined by more than 250 people from around the state and a host of national and state experts and innovators in the fields of education, economic security and child well-being to discuss a two-generation approach to tackling poverty. (more…)

Reduction in teen births benefits all, but more work still needed

Teen pregnancies are rarely planned and the consequences of teen childbearing are dire and long lasting for both of the teen parents, especially the mother, and the child. Young mothers are not likely to have sufficient resources and support to raise a child putting these babies at higher risk for living in poverty, being less prepared for school, and becoming victims of abuse or neglect. Teen births also hinder the parent’s likelihood of finishing high school, going to college and getting a secure, good-paying job, increasing their chances of living in poverty as an adult. These challenges for mother and child in turn affect our communities, our economy and our state services.


Dismantling unintentional bias

suban nur cooley 88 by 132How many able-bodied individuals ever consider that the mere existence of escalators is a form of unintentional bias?

john a. powell*, director of the University of California-Berkley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society was quick to point out in his morning plenary at the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s (LEDA) Summit on Race and Inclusion on May 21 – the inventor likely didn’t have anything against people who cannot use escalators, but nonetheless, the implicit bias is there.

“Having bias doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human,” powell added. “We all have bias. The problem is when it impacts our explicit behavior … impair[ing] our work, family, society and goals, it becomes a problem.” (more…)

Stop being colorblind, race does matter

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in D.C. where among the many workshops offered, one was focused on the implications of racial messaging. In conjunction, I’ve been reading Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity, by leading anti-racism writer, Tim Wise.

So what have I learned about racial messaging, post-racial politics, and racial equity? Well, I’ve learned that not targeting racial inequities, but implementing policies that will inherently impact communities of color is racist.

How is that racist?

Well, communities of color have very different experiences because of their history, resulting in compounded stressors that come from centuries of racial inequities. Even when you take out class differences, people of color from all economic backgrounds continue to suffer health disparities.

Therefore, creating policies to improve social welfare, without specifically targeting people of color, is basically saying that these inequities do not exist, and everyone should be treated the same.

Since the 1970s, it has been seen as more acceptable to use ‘colorblind universalism’ rhetoric when describing goals of anti-poverty programs to deter racialized images of welfare recipients. Even during the 2008 presidential campaign, citizens were told that the economic recession cut across race and class, that all people were being negatively impacted.

It is true that many people have been struggling as a result, but the facts show people of color have always struggled more, and the recession is hitting them that much more than those just starting to feel the pains of a precarious economy.

Socially, we have been taught to downplay race, to treat everyone equally. But we are not all equal. We all come from different backgrounds, have had different starting lines, and it is important to recognize these differences. Therefore, colorblind policymaking ignores the institutional and structural racial inequities that continue to be so persistent.

Programs that have targeted communities of color have proven to improve health and lift people out of poverty as research on early childhood development shows. Unfortunately, these are the types of programs that are the first to be cut as the budget deficit grows.

It’s time to stop being colorblind, and start taking race into account, because race does matter.