|Image via Davenport NAACP|
The average income for a white family in Iowa is $61,000. The average income for a black family in Iowa is $27,000 (source: Status of African Americans in Iowa report). The poverty rate in 2008 for the African American population was 35.6%. The corresponding rate for Iowa as a whole is 11.5%. These numbers echo a national trend. Using the demographics tool at the National Center for Children in Poverty's website you can select from a list of factors and compare poverty rates among the 50 states. In EVERY state, half or more of the African-American population lives in poverty. Considerably less than half of white people in every state live in poverty.
Many families are trying to make ends meet, trying to go to college and live the American Dream...but they are finding it hard to make that dream become a reality. A mother on the podcast tells the story of her lost faith in the American Dream, and her story echoes the story of many people--especially young mothers--in my own neighborhood. Many of the parents in my neighborhood came to Iowa from Chicago trying to make a better life for their children. Neighborhoods here are safer, housing is more affordable, and (for a while) decent jobs were available. Our community is home to an excellent community college and a state university, so there are opportunities for residents who aspire to better themselves through higher education. A lot of young mothers who move to Iowa from Chicago enroll in school, work part-time jobs, and strive to achieve the American Dream. And like the mother interviewed for the podcast, they struggle. Fast food restaurants and motels seem to be the top employers for those new to our community, and the average pay at such places is not enough to support a family.
Why are the numbers representing economic status of African-Americans so disproportionate when compared to the numbers representing the economic status of European-Americans? How do we improve the quality of life for African American families, both in Iowa and in the nation? How can we revive the American Dream? Like the founders of our nation, most people today are trying to make a better life for their families. Why is it so much harder to achieve that dream for African American families than others? The Iowa Commission on the Status of African Americans is trying to answer those questions, and to provide resources for African Americans in Iowa, such as listings of grant opportunities and employment opportunities.
What can others do to help? First and foremost, consider your own perceptions of African Americans in your community. Do you make assumptions about the abilities of African Americans? about their education? about their interests? Do you look black people in the eye when you walk by? Do you speak to them with the same respect you speak to other people? In every day situations, do you approach African Americans without fear?
Consider your perceptions, and if you see a difference in the way you treat African Americans from the way you treat the people from other cultures, please investigate why that is. True change begins within. Offer yourself the opportunity to experience a shift in perception. I believe that seeing all people as worthy human beings is the starting point for helping all people to achieve economic equality.
If you see people as equal to yourself, you will begin to treat people as equal to yourself.