Blacks, Police & the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’: A Solution Unreported (Updated)

May 6, 2015

In the quest for answers to Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, attendant focus on unemployment and urban blight, and the role they play in the tragic encounters between blacks and the police, brought to mind a story reported in March on the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’, a story with proven answers.

The joint piece between News Hour and The Atlantic tells of a broad regional prosperity that resulted from shared wealth policies in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area in the 1970’s, and the subsequent decline after policies were rolled back. Though the Twin Cities still enjoys high ratings in both affordability and upward mobility, an anomaly and powerful lure for millennials, the current ‘miracle’ is not as evenly distributed as it once was. Minneapolis now has one of the widest disparities in opportunity between blacks and whites in the country.

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It wasn’t always so. In the 70’s a concerted effort was made to create policies that benefited everyone. Progressive education, tax-sharing and housing laws were passed. The fiscal disparities law mandated that 40% of each communities business tax base growth was shared regionally. That allowed the less rich communities to share in the commercial wealth of the entire city.

The Minnesota legislature also focussed on integration in public housing. For 15 years, 70% of low-income housing was in the whitest neighborhoods, providing access to better schools and jobs for those occupants.

In the late 80’s, as civil rights laws lapsed across the country, the housing laws were dialed back. Though fiscal equalization did survive, current statistics speak to a divide. High school graduation rates are 47% for African-Americans vs. 86% (statewide) for whites. Homeownership is 34% for African-Americans, 76% for whites. The state, overall, has the highest unemployment gap between whites and people of color, nationwide. (Comparative statistics for ‘before housing rollback’ were not cited, and would have strengthened this report.)

Still, Minneapolis is headquarters to 19 Fortune 500 companies, more than any other for a metro its size. Explaining the locales historical appeal to them, U. Minnesota’s Myles Shaver says: “Its most important resource never leaves the city–educated managers of every level, who can work at just about any company.” The implication of all this? Judy Woodruff sums up local leaders’ thoughts: “The racial disparity in education, opportunity and income must be addressed if Fortune 500 companies continue to come and thrive.”

So… one solution–progressive housing–found, then lost. The other–fiscal equalization–intact, but unreplicated and barely reported on. According to The Atlantic, no other large American city has adopted tax revenue sharing. In 2008, Seoul, Korea imported a version of it. The result was the gap between districts in social services funding, narrowed. Poorer communities were able to grow their tax base with minimal impact on richer ones.

The Minneapolis Miracle cries out for more widespread coverage, especially in these times of growing inequality and its manifold symptoms. A TVNews Archive* search yielded no reports of it other than News Hour’s. For print media, other than The Atlantic article, I found this (long titled) Minnesota story: “This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Raised the Minimum Wage. Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country”. Short and data rich, it makes a clear case for policies that benefit everyone.

Once again, we see coverage of the problem but nothing on solutions–proven solutions–in this case. The more I encounter this, the more it makes my blood boil.

To the News Media: Cover the Topic of solutions to poverty! They are off-the-shelf, ready-made and working. They help people… you know, the people you are supposed to inform so as to make their vote meaningful.

Do it!   It’s.  Your.  Job.

UPDATE:

Three days after I posted the above Minneapolis Miracle blog, News Hour filed another such report on solutions to poverty, this one on Purpose Built Communities in East Lake, Atlanta Ga. PBC, started by Warren Buffett and local community leaders, turned East Lake around by targeting multiple elements simultaneously–housing, education, health and jobs.

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The project has been mostly successful–crime is down 90%, test scores are up, and other cities have replicated it with a Federal project in the works. The downside: surrounding areas have become more expensive, and there is less subsidized housing than originally, forcing the displaced to move to other low income areas. Still, with the state of things, it is ever more important to report on these endeavors to learn what works and empower the public to demand change. Predictably, a TVNews Archive search produced only a handful of CSPAN results in addition to News Hour.

So, again, good job News Hour.  But to the rest of the News Media, I repeat:
Cover the Topic of solutions to poverty!

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*Note: The TVNews Archive database may have data gaps, though none were uncovered in the use of it for this blog.  (more info)

Additional References:
TVNews Archive Network List

Minnesota’s Miracle by Tom Berg (former MN congressman)

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