Minorities losing ground

Data show reversal of civil rights-era progress in Colo.

Theo Wilson opens a discussion during a meeting of  “Barbershop Talk” at the New Montbello Barbershop in east Denver. The group gathers twice a week to address issues affecting African-American men. Enlarge photo

JOE MAHONEY/The I-News Network

Theo Wilson opens a discussion during a meeting of “Barbershop Talk” at the New Montbello Barbershop in east Denver. The group gathers twice a week to address issues affecting African-American men.

Editor’s note: This is one of two stories that look at how Census numbers depict Colorado.

By Burt Hubbard and Ann Carnahan Espinola

I-News Network

By some of the most important measures of social progress, black and Latino residents of Colorado have lost ground compared with white residents in the decades since the civil-rights movement.

Minority gains made during the 1960s and 1970s have eroded with time, an I-News Network analysis of six decades of demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau found. In other categories, the gaps between whites and minorities have steadily widened since 1960.

The analysis focused on family income, poverty rates, high school and college graduation and homeownership. Health data and justice records examined also revealed disparities.

Similar racial and ethnic inequities appear nationwide. But one glaring fact about Colorado is that it went from a state that was by most measures more equitable than the national average in the first decades covered by the analysis to one that is less so now.

According to most experts, racial and ethnic inequality will pose a significant future handicap for a state in which minorities are a rising population.

“I was actually shocked,” said Eric Nelson, vice president of the Aurora NAACP, after examining the data analysis. “You would think we as a nation would have overcome a lot of things since then. It’s like, ‘Wow! We’re spinning our wheels going in reverse.’”

There are important caveats, of course, including the decades-long rise of professional classes among both blacks and Latinos and striking examples of individual wealth and achievement. Minorities have made gains in a number of categories, as well, but in most have not kept pace.

Almost 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his generation-defining “I have a dream” speech, income and education gaps have remained stubbornly high:

In 1970, black families earned 73 percent of white family incomes and Hispanic families earned 72 percent. By 2010, those numbers had fallen to about 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Almost 60 percent of Latino households were owner-occupied in 1970; now it’s just beneath 50 percent. Most experts attribute an immigration influx with pulling down Latino numbers.

The gaps among adults with college degrees have steadily widened since 1960, with the percent of whites with college degrees three times higher than the Latino rate and double the black rate. Those disparities are the nation’s worst for both Latinos and blacks.

Among more positive trends, 86 percent of black adults had graduated from high school in 2010, up from 31 percent in 1960. Latinos have also improved high school graduation rates through the decades, but still lagged badly at 65 percent, compared to 95 percent for whites, in 2010.

For other minority groups in Colorado, their numbers were too small to statistically compare, particularly during the early decades of the analysis.

Poverty, income and education gaps in the state parallel other important disparities outlined in many studies that show blacks and Latinos lagging behind whites in one critical measure of health after another.

Blacks and Latinos, for example, experience significantly higher rates of infant mortality and deaths from diseases such as diabetes than whites in Colorado.

“The general statement that I make is, we’re sicker than most and dying sooner than we should,” said Grant Jones, founder and executive director of the Center for African American Health in Denver.

The implications of inequality for the future are enormous: The number of minority babies being born nationally recently eclipsed that of whites, and, in Colorado, 46 percent of children younger than 1 year of age in 2011 were minorities.

That holds economic consequences in the future for all Colorado residents.

Latinos are the largest minority group, making up 21 percent of the population in 2011, compared to 4 percent for blacks and 70 percent for whites.

Factors at work

The civil rights-era policies that provided a boost to minorities in the 1960s and ’70s have been diminished or dismantled.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions and, in individual states, legislative action have narrowed or eliminated affirmative-action programs.

At the same time, many thousands of Colorado’s good-paying, blue-collar manufacturing jobs have disappeared, hurting minority families disproportionately.

“CF&I Steel (in Pueblo) once had 13,000 employees,” said former state Sen. Abel Tapia of Pueblo. “That used to be a path toward middle-class prosperity.”

Support for K-12 education has diminished. The cost of attending college has skyrocketed.

“We seem to be leading the way in the country on how not to fund education,” said Jim Chavez, executive director of the Latin American Educational Foundation.

The percentage of single-parent families and the number of births to single mothers has soared among black households, exacerbating the gaps, and immigration and teenage births in the Latino population have also led to widening disparities, experts said.

I-News is a nonprofit news service serving Colorado. I-News intern Leia Larsen contributed to this report.

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