Some shocking news — and what to do about it Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Apr. 16, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Wisconsin has long held a reputation as a great place to live and work. We are known for providing an excellent education for people at all levels, along with good jobs and a safe place to live.

Our state prizes the values of opportunity, responsibility, family, and community, pointed out a speaker at a break-out session at the Catholics at the Capitol legislative conference held on April 8 in Madison.

Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said there are many good things happening in our state.

Shocking news

He also shared some shocking news.

Data published in April of this year reveals that Wisconsin has the highest unemployment rate for black people in our country at 19.9 percent. By contrast, less than five percent of white people are unemployed in Wisconsin.

Our state also ranks 46th out of 50 states in its ranking for the well-being of African-American children. In a report from the council’s Race for Equity project, it says that 8o percent of African-American children in Wisconsin live in households below 200 percent of the poverty level, as do nearly two-thirds of Wisconsin’s Latino and American Indian children.

“We have some real challenges we need to confront,” Taylor said. “Without confronting these challenges, we’re not going to fix the problems. We need to do it together.”

Holy Father’s message

I think Pope Francis would agree with Taylor. The Holy Father said in a message to 35 heads of state attending the Summit of the Americas April 10 to 11 in Panama City that government officials cannot be content “to hope that the poor collect the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich.”

Pope Francis said he hoped the leaders would find ways not only to promote economic growth, but also to guarantee the rights of the poor to the “basic needs” of land, jobs, shelter, health care, education, security, and a healthy environment — things “no human being should be excluded from.”

It all boils down to treating everyone with respect. As Taylor said, “The numbers represent real people.”

Addressing racial disparities

Based on Race to Equity’s outreach and engagement process in Dane County, some general principles should guide the work to address racial disparities across Wisconsin:

• We need to authentically engage the families and communities most affected by these disparities in identifying and implementing solutions.

• Our approach needs to be a two-generation strategy — one that supports under-resourced parents while intensifying investments in at-risk children, from cradle to career.

• Our programs and services need to be woven together into a more integrated whole — one that is comprehensive and collaborative, not siloed.

• Our major investments of money and time must be more effectively targeted, recognizing the greatest needs are heavily concentrated among low-income families of color.

• The work ahead is not about placing blame, but about accepting shared responsibility.

•  Given the depth and breadth of our challenges, our responses have to be driven by urgency and sustained by long-term commitment.

The Church’s role

For many years, the Catholic Church has been committed to helping the poor and minorities in its parishes, schools, and charitable agencies.

Members of the Church as individuals as well as those involved in its agencies can and should be involved in addressing the consequences of racial disparities in Wisconsin. The state’s Catholic bishops are developing a statewide Catholic response to poverty.

There is no easy solution. However, I encourage members of our Church to be aware of racial disparities and work together at all levels to do what we can to promote a better future for every child and family in Wisconsin.