Community planners used U.S. Census data to shed light on racial and ethnic disparities in McLean County during the Town of Normal's Daring Diversity racial equity conference.
The two-day conference wrapped up Friday at Heartland Community College.
White households' average income in the county based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013-2017 stands at about $68,000, while income for African-American families is lower than $30,000. Asians had the highest average income at over $88,000.
The countywide average was about $64,500.
Blacks also have a harder time finding work despite the rates of labor force participation being nearly equal among all ethnicities. The unemployment rate for whites was 3.4%, for blacks it was 10% and the percentage was only slightly lower for those from households with two or more races.
African Americans also have a harder time getting a mortgage. They were rejected for home loans at a 21% clip. Whites were denied loans 11% of the time, Asians 9%. Native Americans were denied at a 32% rate.
Alyssa Cooper with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission said you can see how much of the data is connected.
“They really cross intersectional boundaries and so people that are facing different disparities in the community, it seems to be that it’s an all-encompassing thing,” Cooper said. “It’s not just one thing or another.”
While McLean County's median income is higher than the statewide averages, its poverty level is higher too.
“That could just be due to the switching of the economy, the nature of the jobs available in McLean County, but it’s really just showing that wealth gap as it’s called has been widening in the past,” the planning commission’s Lauren Gibson said.
McLean County data show African-Americans have much higher emergency rooms visits, particularly for mental health needs. Several attendees said that's because they may lack health insurance or can't get off work to go to a health clinic during the day.
Cooper said the data sparked a healthy discussion about why these gaps exist and how to address them.
“So much of the time when you look at data and present data, but there’s so much more that goes in with it that, the contextual pieces around it. It was really insightful to unpack the various data points with the audience because a lot of the stuff they mentioned we might not have known about different contexts,” Cooper said.
McLean County’s population is also less diverse than in the rest of the state and country. The county is close to 80% white, compared with 62% for Illinois and the United States, based on the latest Census data.
Summit organizers said they hope to make it an annual event.
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