Is There Racial Equity in Economic Outlooks for North Carolina Cities?

Is There Racial Equity in Economic Outlooks for North Carolina Cities?

National protests against racial inequities in the U.S. have taken center stage this summer (including one in downtown Raleigh). Advocates and lawmakers explain that now is the time to examine racial unfairness for different demographics. And so we might start with the question: do all groups enjoy racial equity in cities across North Carolina?

According to one research index, the answer is no.

Introducing the Racial Equity Index

On July 23, the National Equity Atlas (NEA), a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, released its “Racial Equity Index.” Of course, the organization has gathered data to measure and track “inclusive growth” since 2014. But the new index now allows comparisons between states, cities and regions as of 2017’s data.

NEA researchers designed the tool to aid lawmakers and advocates understand the exact inequities in the U.S., to devise more efficient policies. The USC Equity Director, Manuel Pastor, openly intends the index to inform policy. “The [NEA] hands policymakers and activists open access to data and a playbook for advancing [the] intersectional equity agenda.”

How does the Racial Equity Index work?

Mainly, the index summarizes how a state, city or region measures up to other states, cities or regions in terms of racial equity (and inequity). It only enables peer-to-peer comparisons (only looking at one state vs. other states or one city vs. other cities). These comparisons come from one composite score, consisting of two parts: inclusion and prosperity.

These inclusion and prosperity scores draw from nine indicators: median wages, unemployment, poverty, educational attainment, disconnected youth, school poverty, air pollution exposure, commute time, and rent burden. Here are all the factors (and their summaries) from the NEA’s own chart:

Image courtesy of National Equity Atlas.

These factors each receive one inclusion value, ranging from one to 100 (100 indicates the most racial equity). Those nine values add up to the “inclusion score” for that state, city or region compared to its peers. Those same nine factors also receive a separate prosperity value (from one to 100). These values then combine to form the “prosperity score.”

The Racial Equity Index (REI) averages those two scores (inclusion and prosperity).

Remember: the inclusion score specifically measures racial inclusion while the prosperity measures the overall outcomes for all groups. So the overall REI comes from the data of each area. Think of a triangle, where one angle (inclusion) meets the second angle (prosperity) at the third angle: the racial equity score.

How Do North Carolina Cities Fare?

Overall, the state’s three major hubs (Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro) sat in the middle of the national pack for racial equity scores by 2017. But a fine-toothed look at their “economic readiness” clarifies the economic realities for all their racial communities.

Charlotte’s 2017 REI: 55

Charlotte racial equity chart
Image courtesy of National Equity Atlas.

Raleigh’s 2017 REI: 54

Raleigh racial equity chart
Image courtesy of National Equity Atlas.

Greensboro’s 2017 REI: 60

Image courtesy of National Equity Atlas.

For reference, Irvine, CA holds the highest REI ranking (at 76). Detroit comes in as the lowest-ranking American city with an REI of 21. The three NC cities cluster in roughly the middle of all American cities.

Both Greensboro and Raleigh demonstrated increases in racial equity scores, while Charlotte’s score dropped since 2000. Disclaimer: the increases and decreases don’t necessarily mean that racial inequalities have improved or worsened in these cities. The 2000-2017 changes only mean that inequities increased or decreased compared to their peer cities.

Racial Equity in North Carolina Cities: Economic Vitality

How do Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro fare in economic outlooks across all demographics? We can examine the “Economic Vitality” sections of the Racial Equity Index. Economic Vitality here breaks down into three factors: median wages, unemployment and poverty. We’ve listed these factors in the NEA’s table. Though our analysis involves these factors, keep them in mind.

We’ll list those scores for these cities and be sure to explain what the values actually mean for you, whether you work there or might work there soon.

PolicyLink Senior Associate Abbie Langston commented, “Median wages for Black workers in Charlotte have stagnated for decades.” She explains this trend (and others in Charlotte’s data): “[E]conomic growth alone is never going to solve for economic inequality and exclusion.”
Graphs courtesy of National Equity Atlas.
These prosperity scores, while similarly unequal, are overall higher than Charlotte’s prosperity scores. Remember, Raleigh had scored higher (63) than the Queen City (51).
Graphs courtesy of National Equity Atlas.
These less-extreme scores reflect the greater relative racial equity in Greensboro.
Graphs courtesy of National Equity Atlas.

What Does Lacking Racial Equity in North Carolina Mean to You?

That depends on whether North Carolina policymakers and advocates use these data-based findings to devise new racial equity policies. If they do, you might spot improvement efforts in your community.

So far, the National Equity Atlas has helped organizations nationwide achieve policy. For instance, their data helped the McKnight Foundation form a new racial-equity program to improve Minnesota communities. Ditto for New Orleans, whose 2017 city equity plan drew from the NEA’s “crucial data and policy analysis.” And this year, the Raise the Roof coalition relied on NEA eviction data to extend a rent freeze in the Bay Area.

If the new Racial Equity Index motivates policy in North Carolina, we might see changed priorities for city and business planning. That’s certainly the mission of the National Equity Atlas. Langston, agrees. “Understanding these dynamics – what are the priority issues, and who are the priority populations – is essential to developing a policy agenda that can actually move the needle on racial equity.

She also stresses that easy fixes in our state require nuanced understanding. “Raleigh and Durham are among the 20 cities with the highest prosperity scores for Black residents on the index, and also in the top 20 for White prosperity. But even in these places where people of color are doing relatively well, we still see deep and persistent inequities that must be addressed explicitly.” Given that these racial inequities exist, she backs the need for the REI’s data-based understanding for NC policies. Time will tell if the state’s organizers and officials take this path towards racial fairness and reconciliation.