Who counts?

Added June 1st, 2017 by Jenny Kinne | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jenny Kinne

My favorite moment of last week happened in a crowded theater in Muskegon. Hundreds of people from across the state gathered to talk equity at the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s 2017 Summit on Race & Inclusion, “Moving Toward Justice.” The day began with Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, a self-described nerd and data enthusiast, speaking about how he uses statistics, education and a bit of dorky charm to work with public safety departments across the country to cut down on racial profiling and police violence.

In setting the stage for our day, he asked an important question—“Who counts?” As a country, we have very little data on our police departments, so when issues of police brutality come to the forefront, it is difficult to understand the frequency and cause of such problems. This is far from the only data that is missing when it comes to how public policy and community service programs affect people. Many people’s experiences are not being counted. When we do not count people, Dr. Goff asks, “How many stories are we missing?”

This question echoed in my brain later that day as I listened to Heather McGhee, president of Demos, give her take on today’s U.S. economy. Like myself, Heather is a millennial, so she opened her conversation with: “Millennials are this country’s largest and most diverse generation in American history, and they are the first generation of Americans who will not be better off financially than their parents.”

Sadly, this fact has transformed into a sentiment I hear too often—young people are not as hard-working, motivated, selfless, etc., as the workers of previous generations. I will remember Heather’s response for a long time:

  1. From the 1930s forward, we have steadily decreased taxes for the wealthy and made it harder for workers to collectively bargain. This was happening alongside immigration reform that transformed the demographics of our country.
  2. Diverse Hands Raised 533 x289We no longer live in a world where a person can have a union-wage job and support an entire family while saving for the future. Most two-parent homes in this country have both parents working, and there are no contemporary positions equivalent to post-war, unionized and entry-level manufacturing jobs. The fastest growing industry in the country is the service industry, and most service jobs offer low wages and no benefits packages.
  3. The Montgomery Effect—Before the Civil Rights Act, Montgomery, AL, had a state-of-the-art parks system. Their beautiful zoo, pool and downtown parks were the pride of the town. When the Civil Rights Act passed, the city of Montgomery drained their pool and sold their zoo animals rather than integrate. Similarly, prior to the entrée of women and people of color into the workforce, key social contracts were developed between government, business and labor. As more people demanded a seat at the table, these social contracts dissolved. Economic decisions often reflect the prejudices of the decision-makers.

When you combine these three realities, it is no wonder we see a shrinking middle class and a growing gap between the classes. The price of entry into today’s middle class is simply too high for many working families and millennials.

Why don’t we hear this story? Instead, we hear that millennials, people of color, immigrants and poor people are causing the collapse of the middle class. The real experiences of these people are not being counted and given meaning in today’s political rhetoric.

Thank you to LEDA for this incredible experience! Please be sure to learn more about this organization, and I would recommend their annual race summit to anyone. I hope you will be as inspired as I am to create a better Michigan for all!

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA) works in West Michigan to dismantle barriers to ensure people of all ethnic backgrounds have equal access to participate fully in the life of the community. Every year, LEDA holds a Summit where they bring together thought leaders from across the country and Michigan to discuss racial equity and inclusion.

— Jenny Kinne

One Response to “Who counts?”

  1. […] Originally written for the Michigan League for Public Policy […]

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