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Minority Gains Not Showing Up In Wallets

 

Racial Inequality Persists in the Mountain State;
Groups propose solutions
 
African Americans in West Virginia continue to earn less money, have higher rates of poverty, and be
less likely to own a home or have health insurance than whites, according to a report released today at
the State Capitol. These disparities persist despite substantial gains in education and civil rights made by
African Americans over the past century.
 
“The poverty rate for the state’s African American children is double the rate for white children, and the
infant mortality rate is higher than that of many less developed countries,” said Reverend James
Patterson, president of the Partnership of African American Churches and co-author of the report. “Such
widespread poverty is destructive not only to the children and their families, but to the social and
economic progress of the state as a whole.”
 
The report, “Legacy of Inequality: Racial and Economic Disparities in West Virginia,” includes a sobering
analysis of Census and other data conducted by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. For
example, nearly six in ten African American children live in poverty. The median wage for African
American workers is 20 percent lower than that of white workers. African American workers are 40
percent more likely than white workers to become unemployed.
 
“Underlying all of these disparities is the fact that African Americans continue to be underrepresented in
higher-paying occupations,” said Center director Ted Boettner. “Educational attainment is fairly equal
between African Americans and whites, but whites are still more likely to land the good-paying jobs,
whether they be in management or construction.”
 
While the report does not suggest that racism is the sole cause of these disparities, it does suggest that
a deeper understanding of race is needed in order to rectify them. It cites the work of Dr. Camara Jones,
physician and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, who describes racism as a system,
rather than an individual character flaw. Therefore, reducing racism requires more than changing
individual behavior. It also involves changing social structures, policies and norms that treat people
differently based on the way they look.
 
“Fortunately, racial inequality is not a law of nature,” said Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends
Service Committee and co-author of the report. “The system we have was created by people and can be
changed by people."
 
“Despite difficult and sometimes inhuman conditions, African Americans have made vital and lasting
contributions to the history and culture of West Virginia,” said Beth Spence of the American Friends
Service Committee and co-author of the report. “There are many steps we can take to create a different
legacy – one of respect and equality – for future generations of African Americans.”
The report proposes numerous public policies that could be enacted to reduce racial and economic
disparities in the state, including:
 
• Create a State Office of Minority Affairs charged with reviewing information and coordinating
agency-level programs across state government to eliminate the racial disparities identified in this
report.
 
• Expand economic opportunity by appropriating state funds to support economic development
projects in communities with large African American populations. In addition, continue funding for
the Neighborhood Housing and Economic Stabilization Program in low-income and minority
neighborhoods to spur economic growth and to provide employment and training opportunities.
 
• Extend Unemployment Insurance to workers who are presently excluded. West Virginia is eligible
for $33 million under the federal Recovery Act if the state adopts three reforms. The Legislature
passed the first reform last year by adopting a broader-based method for calculating eligibility. The
state could draw down the remaining funds expanding coverage to part-time workers and workers
with compelling family reasons for leaving their jobs.
 
• Reauthorize Professional Development Schools in ten counties with high minority and low-income
populations. A professional development school is an innovative partnership between teacher
education programs and public schools designed to improve both the quality of teaching and
student learning.
 
###
 
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that
focuses on how policy decisions affect all West Virginians, especially low- and moderate-income
families. The report “Legacy of Inequality: Racial and Economic Disparities in West Virginia” is available
at www.wvpolicy.org.
 
The Partnership of African American Churches (PAAC) is non-profit, faith-based community
development corporation, based in Charleston. www.paac2.org
The American Friends Service Committee, West Virginia Economic Justice Project, works statewide on
issues affecting low-income and working families. www.afsc.org/charleston
 
Contact: Reverend James Patterson, (304) 610-1990, patterson@paac2.org
Rick Wilson, (304) 743-9459, Rwilson@afsc.org
Ted Boettner (304) 720-8682, tboettner@wvpolicy.org


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