By Henry Hamilton III
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is designed to improve employment, grow the economy, and strengthen the nation’s infrastructure. Wisconsin’s share of the 787 billion dollar program is estimated at 3.75 billion dollars. With African Americans making up six percent of the state’s population, one could extrapolate that approximately $225,000,000 should go directly to employ African Americans, grow the economy in African American communities, and improve the infrastructure in African American neighborhoods.
The six percent figure does not take into account several equities which dictate that African Americans should receive a much larger share of the Recovery Act dollars. For instance, portions of the Act are specifically designed to strengthen economically distressed communities. National studies indicate that the State’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, particularly in the Milwaukee area, are among the most economically distressed neighborhoods in the nation. Moreover, African Americans traditionally account for a disproportionate number of the State’s unemployed, and tend to be the most tenured unemployed. Accordingly, when we adjust for these equities it is apparent that African Americans should receive an even greater share of the proceeds.
The question of the day is whether African Americans in the state will receive an equitable share of Recovery Act dollars? I remain optimistic; however, history suggests “NO.” Unless, of course, African Americans in a collaborative effort demand a just and equitable distribution.
A generous portion of Wisconsin’s share of Recovery Act dollars – approximately $530,000,000 – are designed for transportation improvements. Many are suggesting that we are already seeing signs that African American communities may not realize an equitable share of Recovery Act dollars. Indeed, just last week Wisconsin DOT officials released a list of eight projects for the $38.7 million slated for transportation projects within the Milwaukee Urbanized area. The list was dominated by suburban project. Only three City of Milwaukee projects made the list. Under the recommendation, Milwaukee would receive 8.8 million dollars compared to the 17.7 million dollars received by suburban communities.
City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett led opposition to the DOT recommendations. Based upon its calculations, the City of Milwaukee believes it is entitled to roughly $16.5 million dollars in this batch of transportation funding. This is good news, because based upon that calculation African American neighborhoods would be in line for 6.15 million dollars worth of jobs/improvements since African Americans comprise 37% of the City’s population.
The Transportation Equity Network, a national coalition dedicated to reforming unwise transportation and land use policy recently published “A User’s Guide to Advocate for Transportation Equity in the 2009 Recovery Act.” It is worth reading. In the guide it warns that “transportation policy, planning and investments have traditionally put lower-income people and communities of color in the slow lane, leaving economically distressed neighborhoods with few avenues to prosperity.” The Transportation Equity Network suggests that communities of color work together “to ensure that recovery dollars begin to chart a new course – one that rebuilds our economy so that all can participate and prosper.”
African Americans must be committed to working together to advocate for an equitable distribution of Recovery Act dollars. This means putting aside age-old grievances and keeping our collective eyes on the prize. We don’t want to be caught five years from now holding nothing but a worthless IOU.