Kansas City’s future depends on overcoming a racial divide

02/09/2014 5:00 PM

02/09/2014 6:02 PM

Because of rapidly increasing racial and ethnic demographic changes, the future in the Kansas City area will depend on this community overcoming its racist past and present.

That won’t be easy because of racism’s deep roots and its regenerating ability to hurt and exclude people of color. A recent report on Platte, Clay, Ray, Jackson and Cass counties in Missouri and Wyandotte, Leavenworth, Johnson and Miami counties in Kansas lays out the inequities and offers recommendations. It’s important to study during Black History Month.

It notes the area’s segregation, racial inequities in housing, jobs, pay, health, transportation and access to food. But the 103-page report fails to explain that racism feeds the white privilege the majority enjoys and slows progress for minorities.

The Mid-America Regional Council commissioned the “Equity Profile of the Kansas City Region.” Its partners are Communities Creating Opportunity, the Green Impact Zone, the Latino Civic Engagement Collaborative, the Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, and the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

The study explains that the area’s human capital growth will be mostly in people of color. Minorities’ share of the population since 1980 has grown from 16 percent to 27 percent. The share of the population growth attributable to communities of color since 2000 is 67 percent.

The greatest growth is among Latinos. In the last decade, their numbers are up 78 percent, or 72,000 residents. The white population with a larger base, increased 5 percent, or 64,000 residents.

The black and Native American populations grew 11 percent and 8 percent. Asian and other/mixed racial background populations grew 61 percent and 51 percent.

The nation by 2043 will be majority-minority. Wyandotte County already is a majority-minority community.

Jackson County is expected to follow in 2040, and Johnson County then will be more than 40 percent people of color. That is a radical shift considering that Johnson County’s rapid growth — 53 percent since 1990 — was because it was seen as a desirable, mostly white, middle-class, low poverty community with good schools.

But minorities continue to integrate previously all-white communities and schools. Unfortunately, poverty has increased, too.

“The majority of the region’s poor people now live outside of Kansas City proper,” the report said. The share of the poor living in the suburbs increased from 41 percent to 53 percent from 2000 to 2011.

Wages have dropped. People of color face high unemployment and educational inequities, income inequality, high concentrations of poverty and unreasonable rents.

Middle-class incomes also are deteriorating. It contributes to this area ranking 104th among the largest 150 regions in income inequality. More than one of every four African-Americans and Latinos lives below the poverty level compared with about one in 14 whites.

The report notes that “more equitable nations and regions experience stronger growth. Companies with a diverse workforce achieve a better bottom line” and “a diverse population better connects to global markets.”

“To secure America’s prosperity, the United States must implement a new economic model based on equity, fairness and opportunity,” the report says

For that to happen here, the report recommends bridging gaps with inclusive, multigenerational communities, growing good jobs paying middle-class wages, providing job training using community colleges, reconnecting minority youths with education and jobs, building a diverse leadership core, creating healthier communities with more grocery stores, and improving public transportation, connecting people to jobs.

But people in this community will have to abandon racism and put aside differences for everyone to advance. Our future depends on it.

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