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How racist is Rochester, NY?

Structural racism is not a figment of our imagination. In April of 2021, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham denied systemic racism exists in America. Graham used the elections of former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris as references for his belief. Unfortunately, research shows systemic racism is still a major issue across the country and even worse in Rochester.

The University of Rochester Medical Center reported housing policies established more than eight decades ago that effectively trapped people of color in low income and segregated neighborhoods continues to impact the health of residents to this day, specifically resulting in poor obstetric outcomes such as pre-term birth. That is the conclusion of a new study in the journal JAMA Open Network, by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

June 2020, County Executive Adam Bello and former Mayor Lovely Warren developed The Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE). According to the website, the charge of the commission was to review local city and county laws, policies, and ordinances to identify areas of structural inequity and recommend ways to change those laws to achieve fair application for all citizens. The RASE report found that BIPOC have inadequate access to networks of opportunity, including access to capital, civil service jobs within government, and a variety of housing options in local areas and neighborhoods across the County. People of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately arrested, suspended from school, and brought into systems like child protective services, foster care and juvenile justice that often do not serve their needs.

In 2018, 24/7 Wall St. published a report entitled, "The Worst Cities For Black Americans". Rochester, NY, was one of 15 cities on the list. The report states, to determine the 15 worst cities for black Americans, 24/7 Wall St. created an index consisting of eight measures to assess race-based gaps in socioeconomic outcomes in each of the nation’s metropolitan areas. Creating the index in this way ensured that cities were ranked on the differences between black and white residents and not on absolute levels of socioeconomic development. For each measure, we constructed an index from the gaps between black and white Americans. The index was standardized using interdecile normalization so outliers in the data did not skew results. We excluded metro areas where black residents comprised less than 5% of the population or where data limitations made comparisons between racial groups impossible.

Within the index, we considered 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on median household income, poverty, adult high school and bachelor’s degree attainment, homeownership, and unemployment rates. All ACS data are five-year estimates. Data on incarceration rates came from The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit dedicated to criminal justice reform, and are for the most recent available year. Because states, rather than metro areas, are responsible for the prison population, incarceration rates are for the state where the metro area is located. If a metro area spans more than one state, we used the state in which the metro area’s principal city is located. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we used age-adjusted mortality rates by race for each U.S. county from 2012-2016 to calculate mortality rates at the metro level using a variation on the indirect standardization method. Incarceration and mortality rates are per 100,000 residents.

Rochester, NY

> Black population: 124,911 (11.5%)

> Black median income: $28,681 (48.7% of white income)

> Unemployment: 16.3% black; 5.4% white

> Homeownership rate: 32.3% black; 73.9% white

A recent report by the Civil Rights Project of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that segregation persists de facto in the Rochester metro area’s schools. From 1990 to 2010, white enrollment in Rochester’s inner-city public schools fell from more than 34% to just 15%. As white families relocated to the suburbs, the share of black students in urban Rochester schools climbed from 49% to 60%.

Segregated schools can perpetuate economic and social inequality. In Rochester just 78.8% of black adults have a high school diploma compared to 93.1% of white adults — nearly double the nationwide attainment gap. The median income for black area households of $28,681 a year is less than half the white median household income of $58,885 a year.

Reports regarding inequities in Rochester have yet to make any impact. BIPOC remain disadvantaged and underserved in our community. So, what steps are you taking to end systemic racism?

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