Racial and economic segregation impairs economic growth according to a new study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. The formula is pretty straight forward. If the region doesn’t have a ready and accessible workforce, then business can’t expand. And if business can’t expand, then the region’s growth is stunted.
Our stunted regional growth is graphically brought home by another study recently published, this one by the Milwaukee Public Policy Forum. The report, Cultivating Innovation, rates the region’s “business dynamism” against peer cities nation-wide. A graphic summary of the report is seen in the picture at the head of this post. It shows our region behind in every business dynamic measured. What is interesting is that this report states that the regional “talent pool is strengthening….and the educational level is rising” when looking at workers in the knowledge and skilled workforce sectors. It is unfortunate that the Public Policy Forum report doesn’t break down the “talent pool” by demographics or by location (city or county).
According to the Brookings study, female, black, and Hispanic workers are underrepresented in the tradable industries (the part of the economy affected by international competition) and in the STEM workforce sectors. Both provide better wages and opportunities for advancement. I suspect that what the Brookings report found at the national level is mirrored, if not accentuated at the Milwaukee regional level where there are high levels of racial and economic segregation.
Another area where the region lags is in minority owned business relative to the minority population. Only Cleveland has a worse record than Milwaukee in this category.
What seems clear is that our acute racial and economic segregation in the four-county area surrounding Milwaukee is stifling the economic growth of the entire region.
Said another way:
The data on how segregation impairs economic growth is apparent. But knowing the data won’t change the policy dynamics that maintain the racial and economic segregation in the region. Only a change of heart within each of us will do that. Only a change of heart within the key decision makers will allow us to affect the change needed to ignite our regional economic growth.
It is a bit ironic that we can develop all of the economic development plans we want, but we won’t be able to maximize our regional potential until we heal the wounds in our own hearts. It appears that the best economic development strategy for the region is for each of us to peer into our own souls and search out our capacity to share and to love.
Our best economic growth strategy may be one where we reach out our hand to those around us and help all to share in the bounty.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.