Community Group Outlines Racial Disparity Issues in Johnson County

[Source: “Community Group Outlines Racial Disparity Issues in Johnson County,” KCRG, 23 July 2013, by Dave Franzman]

IOWA CITY, Iowa- Iowa City and all of Johnson County may have a reputation as one of Iowa’s most racially-diverse areas. But a report out Tuesday from a community group says there are troubling signs of inequality and disparity that could mar that reputation.

The Coalition for Racial Justice produced the study of statistics and trends in Johnson County when it comes to minorities. The report noted that the population of minorities has risen from the 11% in the 2000 Census to 17% in the 2010 Census. One disparity example concerned unemployment.

The report entitled “Racial Equity in Iowa City and Johnson County” noted that blacks had an unemployment rate of 12.1% in 2011. For Latinos it was 5.9%. The overall unemployment rate during that same period for the county as a whole was 4.3%.

Coalition members admitted many of the figures in the report have come out before. But the idea was to put it together in one place to enable the whole community to focus on the issues.

One report author, Diane Finnerty, said many in the area are proud of the diversity and progressive nature of Johnson County. And they might not recognize there is an issue of racial justice.

“I think as a white person I’ve very progressive about many social issues. But I still have a great many blind spots on racial issues,” Finnerty said.

The 18-page report found students of different races don’t graduate from schools at the same rate. Black students are overrepresented when it comes to getting singled out for school discipline. Black juveniles are also six times more likely to be arrested by police compared to white teens.

LaTasha Massey, another report author, said it’s difficult to look at some of the numbers an insist there isn’t an issue of race in Johnson County.

“We are, in fact, a tale of two cities in which residents fare very differently depending on race and ethnicity,” Massey said.

The report did not offer reasons for the racial differences in those statistics and the ones showing both blacks and Latinos also do worse in issues of housing and business ownership.

But they did offer one first step–calling for a racial justice roundtable in the county to begin examining the reasons for disparity and ways to combat the problem.

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