Tag Archives: demographics

Kansas City Equity Profile

I am excited to be collaborating with the folks working on the Kansas City Equity Profile, a data-driven examination of racial disparities in the Kansas City region.

I would encourage you to read the six-page summary, but I have some highlights and insights here. It really is an honor to be able to contribute to this critically-important work.

I was reflecting the other day on how lucky I have been to have my career dovetail with really significant demographic and social changes, allowing me to feel as though I’m practicing ‘on the leading edge’ of what society is dealing with. Hopefully every social work advocate feels this way, but I think that I have landed in particularly well-placed positions.

Like when I started my career advocating in aging, when organizations and policymakers were really taking notice of shifting demographics and the political and economic imperative to develop cost-effective responses to the needs of a growing older adult population. Or when I was getting into immigration policy around 2000, when new U.S. Census data opened many people’s eyes to the realities of an increasingly diverse U.S. population.

Or now, when the tremendous divide between rich and poor is the dominant imperative in many policymaking circles (and even mayoral campaigns), and my work on assets and poverty and inequality allows me to be part of those conversations.

It’s a wonderful life.

But we have a lot of work to do.

  • I appreciate how this Equity Profile starts out with demographics of population make-up, but not from a ‘numbers are destiny’ conceit, but, instead, in recognition that, with growing presence of people of color, the region ignores inequality at its own peril.
  • The Equity Profile doesn’t focus just on people in poverty, but it doesn’t ignore them either. It is critical that we talk about what’s happening to the middle class in the United States, but, if we only bemoan the threats to those previously economically-secure, we run the risk of missing the forces ravaging those long-mired in deprivation. The root causes are the same, and the fates are linked.
  • There is a connection to policy woven throughout the report, particularly related to the education and health disparities that are both cause and effect of the divides. Recognizing this mutual causation and committing to policy changes capable of disrupting these linkages is essential to building a more equitable society, and I am glad that the authors didn’t shy away from prescriptions.
  • The recommendations is where my work and interests intersect this effort. We need to build communities that facilitate relationships between young people of color and older white Americans–not constructed, programmatic relationships, but authentic connections, borne of shared spaces, that drive home the reality of a common destiny. We need good jobs and pathways that link people to them. We need investment in public infrastructure. And we are unlikely to get any of these things without a more diverse governing class, so we need broad representation among policymaking bodies.
  • Not reflected in the report, but critically important, is the accompanying action strategy, with organizations convening events and organizing campaigns and conducting 1:1s around these priorities and this vision of a more equitable region. This isn’t ‘just’ a report; it’s an example of trying to use information to outline the parameters for a movement. And I am thrilled to be part of it.

I would love to hear about other regions’ similar efforts to focus on equity, and I am very interested in responses to this one. What is on your equity agenda? What do you think needs to happen in order to galvanize a policy conversation about equity, in a way we have not yet?

What does it mean?

We’re two weeks now from the November 2011 elections.

There has been a lot of tea-leaf reading, with pundits trying to figure out the 2012 implications of the Ohio referendum against the anti-labor legislation, the defeat of Mississippi’s ‘personhood’ amendment, and the victories by more progressive candidates and causes in some parts of the country.

And me?

I just keep thinking about Kris Kobach’s response when a reporter asked him about the significance of Russell Pearce’s recall in Arizona.

Pearce was the key sponsor of SB1070, the first harsh anti-immigrant enforcement measure Kobach got passed. Voters were, by all appearances, tired of his rhetoric, knack for dragging Arizona into costly litigation, and other ineptitude (not all immigration-related). So he was recalled, which is rather noteworthy, and then lost his recall election.

A reporter in Kansas asked Kobach about the defeat of his colleague, and he retorted that, if it had been a closed Republican primary, Pearce would have retained his seat.

But he was, after all, defeated by another Republican. Just in an election in which any Arizona voter could vote.

So what I keep thinking is this:

Did the intellectual architect of the legislative attacks on immigrant families just admit that these ideas only resonate, today, with Republican primary voters? If so, then, given that there’s obviously a general election in every cycle, did their guy just acknowledge that their days are numbered, at least at the ballot box?

There’s never been the kind of electoral evidence of support for anti-immigrant extremism that anti-immigrant organizations and politicians allege. Polls show that most voters don’t make their decisions based on immigration issues, and that Latinos and Asians–mostly with pro-immigrant positions–are the ones for which immigration is the deciding priority.

But it’s a far cry from believing that most voters don’t mark their ballots with an eye towards immigration policy to thinking that we could see an electoral scenario where anti-immigrant extremism is truly marginalized…and that one element of the electorate may cling to those positions long past the point at which they become toxic.

The truth?

I don’t know what it means. Is it that proverbial pendulum swinging back? Is it changing demographics within the electorate? Is it an isolated example in an off-year?

Or is it something more? A symbol that Americans, in this case specifically Arizonans, took a look at what they had become and, not liking it at all, got rid of the man they held responsible?

November 2011 was surely about May 2010. Let’s hope it holds some insights for August and November 2012, too.

Making it count: demographics and the “new” electorate

The new Census report on voting in the 2010 elections was released a couple of weeks ago, and there are some interesting trends there.

As our friends at Nonprofit Vote describe it, “Last year, Hispanics comprised 7% of voters, the highest percentage ever for a non-presidential election. The percentage of non-Hispanic white voters was 77.5%, down from 80.4% in 2006. Tiffany Julian of the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch noted that “The electorate looks much different than when we first started collecting these data 37 years ago,” yet turnout and registration rates still do not mirror the nation’s growing diversity. There are persistent voting gaps for many of the populations that nonprofits serve. In addition to racial and ethnic gaps, economic gaps remain stark: People in families who earned $100,000 or more were more than twice as likely to vote as those who lived with families earning less than $20,000. Homeowners were more likely to both register and vote than renters.” Furthermore, people with at least some college education made up 68 percent of voters. Individuals without a high school diploma comprised 6 percent of voters.

These statistics were made all-too-real for me two weeks ago when I facilitated a voter registration and Get-Out-The-Vote training for a local nonprofit organization that serves a primarily low-income Latino community. When we got to the part of the training where I ask people to think of the objections they’re likely to hear from those they’re trying to engage in the electoral process, the responses came fast and furious.

  • “My one vote won’t matter.”
  • “They’ll just steal the elections anyway.”
  • “I couldn’t figure out who to vote for.”
  • “The whole process is corrupt; I don’t want any part of it.”
  • “They’re not even talking about issues that matter to me–it’s a waste of time.”
  • “I have too much going on to spend time figuring out elections and stuff.”

And on and on and on.

These nonprofit employees weren’t off the mark. The Census Bureau reports that the most common reason people did not vote was they were too busy (27 percent). Another 16 percent felt that their vote would not make a difference.

The truth is that there are a lot of barriers that separate the population this organization serves–mostly native Spanish speakers, a lot of recently naturalized citizens who didn’t grow up in our democratic system, families with young children and a million demands on their time and attention–from active and informed participation in our electoral system.

So that’s why, despite great progress, we still don’t have an electorate that fully represents our population. And the implications are profound, serving to perpetuate policy decisions that, in turn, widen the gap between elected officials and those they should serve.

Demographics alone won’t change our destiny. It’s up to us–including nonprofit organizations well-positioned to engage our constituents in our democracy–to make sure that 2012’s statistics on voter turnout continue the trajectory of increasing participation by communities of color, and that low-income communities are present in the voting booth at this critical time in our economic future.

The numbers may be on “our” side–those of us who want a diverse electorate that invigorates our national conversation about the kind of future we want to build–but history is replete with examples when numbers were not enough.

We’re the missing link, and we’ve got some chasms to hurdle. And not-quite-13-months to get leaping.