WJBC Voices: Is Bloomington-Normal segregated?

By Mike Matejka

Is Bloomington-Normal segregated?

Despite our efforts to build a unified and accessible community, Bloomington-Normal and central Illinois did not fare well in a recent special report from Governing magazine.  Governing is a professional publication for city staffs and elected officials.  It recently did an in-depth study of racial segregation in Central Illinois and we did not fare well.

The publication looked at Rockford, Peoria, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal and Danville.  In terms of education and housing, we did better than our neighbors.  Where we failed the grade was in economic disparity.

This report used census data for its conclusions.  In housing, Bloomington-Normal was less restrictive.  Peoria ranked as the sixth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation, while southern cities had more housing integrated than Springfield or Champaign-Urbana.

In the U.S. as a whole, 12 percent of white families are below the poverty line, while 25 percent of African-American families are in that group.  Of the central Illinois cities studied, Bloomington-Normal’s white poverty rate was close to the national average (11.6%), but our African-American poverty rate was 34.6 percent, almost ten points above the national average.  We had the lowest African-American poverty rate of the central Illinois cities, but not by much.

Our biggest discrepancy was in income.  The average white household in our community earns $66,609 annually, while the average African-American household earns $29,778.  Our overall unemployment rate varies seasonally, but for the study it was 4.1 percent for white workers, 10.7 percent for African-American workers.

I would highly recommend a thorough reading of the study.  http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-segregation-series.html

There is no easy solution to these problems.  Education and job training is certainly one answer.  We are a very educated community with business and academic professionals who earn a decent living.  At the same time, we have lower-income people of all backgrounds who are often working multiple jobs at low wages to maintain themselves.  We need service workers just like we need professionals.   My opinion is that anyone who works should earn enough that they don’t need government assistance or the food bank to maintain themselves.  Yet if you visit our food banks and look at who receives aid, many are working, their renumeration is not a living wage that can sustain them.

Segregation was often thought of as a Southern problem.  People growing up here did not see separate waiting rooms or drinking fountains.  Yet segregation can happen in housing, education and employment, often without overt malice.   As a community and as a central Illinois region, we need to carefully look in the mirror at the data this study reveals and carefully work with our diverse community to find long-term solutions.

Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society. He currently serves on the Normal Planning Commission. 

The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.


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