Minnesota, we have a problem revisited

I was very pleased to see that my recent Star Tribune op-ed — Minnesota, we have a problem — generated not one but two day’s worth of replies. Sadly, many of them seem to have missed the point, namely, that, given the long-term co-existence in Minnesota of high, progressive taxes and racial disparities — two facts few seem to argue with — it would seem unlikely that yet higher and more progressive taxes, such as those proposed in the last legislative session, are the remedy for these ongoing racial disparities. Experience has lead me to be wary of the quality of letters to the editor, and these replies only confirmed that.

There were some who argued with those facts, at least as they relate to Minnesota’s racial disparities. One respondent wrote “I do not mean to discount the issues we face in Minnesota” before going on to do just that. Another trumpeted Minnesota’s ranking as “the second-best state to live in,” though I have no doubt that things do look rather swell when viewed from Minnetonka. Our state’s tradition of Boosterism dies hard.

Whilst such people might not be part of it, I noted in my op ed that “A new consensus is emerging as progressives join conservatives in perceiving that all is not well in the state of Minnesota.” An example appeared in Minn Post a month before my op ed appeared in the Star Tribune, where St. Olaf College professor Dan Hofrenning asked: “Is Minnesota the new Mississippi?

Prof. Hofrenning writes:

Comparing Minnesota to southern states — often viewed as racist — reveals prejudice and bigotry that belie our progressive self-image. Starting with our criminal justice system, the Sentencing Project reveals that Minnesota ranks 4th among states in the racial disparity of incarceration rates for black and white residents. Minnesota imprisons 1,219 blacks for every 100,000 blacks in the state, but only 111 whites per 100,000 whites in the population. Minnesota’s 11:1 racial disparity dwarfs comparable ratios in states like Alabama and Mississippi.

Looking at home ownership, the data show that over half of blacks in Mississippi and Alabama own a home, yet only 25% of Minnesota blacks own a home. Why the difference? The Mapping Prejudice Project has revealed the existence of racial redlining in the Twin Cities that thwarted the path toward home ownership among black Minnesotans. If owning a home is at the core of the so-called American dream, in Minnesota it seems more a practice of white privilege than an equitable and inclusive dream for all.

Looking at our education system, the Federal Reserve studied the teaching of blacks and whites in Minnesota’s public schools. Its research showed that the achievement gaps between black and white students in math and reading are among the worst in the nation — behind Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.

These are points we at the Center have long noted. In our 2019 report ‘Minnesota’s Workforce to 2050‘ I wrote that:

Minnesota’s incarceration rate is one of the lowest in the country, but disparities between rates for white and black residents are 4th highest nationally. Research shows that this has a disproportionate negative impact on rates of black employment, so this could explain at least some of the greater decline in employment among black Minnesotans than nationally. A balance needs to be struck between law and order and economic efficiency, and a “Clean Slate” law, such as those enacted in Pennsylvania and Utah recently, coupled with a repeal of the “Ban the Box” law would be a start.

And, in my op ed, I wrote that:

…for Black Minnesotans some of these outcomes, like homeownership rates, are not just low relative to those for white Minnesotans but relative to those for Black residents of other states. My colleague Catrin Wigfall noted recently that Black and Hispanic students in Mississippi outperformed Minnesota’s Black and Hispanic students in both math and reading and that test scores for Mississippi’s Black students have been rising in recent years, compared with declining scores for our state’s Black students.

We might disagree on the causes of these disparities — Prof. Hofrenning writes that “These injustices are rooted in 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow and more” when misguided contemporary housing and education policies might have more to do with it — and we might also disagree with the remedies. But we are, at least, agreed that there is a problem, and that is a start.