|FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) — Kentucky has an opportunity to embrace significant changes to achieve racial equity, but progress will not occur until educational attainment is improved, fairness is ensured in the criminal justice system and economic empowerment is increased for people of color.
That is the message of a new report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Task Force on Racial Inequality, “Achieving Equity to Build a Stronger Kentucky.”
“Achieving these goals will lead to greater productivity for businesses, increased tax revenue to support education and other critical programs and, of particular importance on an individual level, a better quality of life for Kentuckians,” the report noted. “In short, the entire Commonwealth will share in the benefits of achieving equity.”
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The task force described the areas of education, criminal justice and economic empowerment as critical elements of building a more equitable society in Kentucky. It also pointed out that the report is the first step in what will be ongoing initiatives of the Kentucky Chamber to identify and address inequities in the state’s public and private institutions, policies and programs.
“Learning from the lessons of the past year, Kentucky has an unprecedented opportunity to build a stronger future by making deliberate, sustainable reforms to overcome the racial inequality that has hampered our progress for so many generations,” said Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts. “This is serious work and will require the commitment, energy, and ongoing attention of employers, business leaders, policymakers, elected officials, educators, and committed citizens across the Commonwealth.”
The task force comprised civic, business and education leaders. Its report provided data and research to illustrate current realities and recommended changes to achieve greater equity.
Here is a closer look at the report’s findings and recommendations in each of the three areas. The full report is available here.
Despite general progress in Kentucky students’ academic performance, achievement gaps persist between Black and white students. The gaps exist at all school levels and are also evident in the opportunities available for Black students for rigorous coursework, advanced learning, career and technical education programs and dual credit courses.
There also is a wide disparity in disciplinary measures affecting Black students and white students. While Black students comprise 10.5% of the school population, they were subject to 34.7% of the disciplinary measures in a recent academic year. White students comprise 76.8% of the population; they were subject to 52.8% of the disciplinary measures in the same year.
At the postsecondary level, 10.6% of Kentucky’s college-age population is Black; 6.2% of students who received degrees or credentials in a recent academic year were Black. Going forward, enrollment trends are not encouraging.
The report includes recommendations to close achievement and opportunity gaps, address the disparities in school discipline and increase postsecondary enrollment and attainment for Black students. These include, among other steps:
The report framed its findings and recommendations on criminal justice with the National Institute of Corrections conclusion: “There are few areas of American society where racial disparities are as profound and as troubling as in the criminal justice system.”
Kentucky’s population is 87.5% white and 8.5% Black, but the report noted that arrests reveal strikingly different percentages in both of the categories in which arrests are reported, reflecting more and less serious offenses.
For more serious offenses, whites accounted for 77.98% of arrests while Blacks accounted for 18,97% of arrests, according to 2018 data. For less serious offenses, whites accounted for 82.42% of arrests; Blacks accounted for 15.99% of arrests.
As with arrests, the report pointed out, the percentage of incarcerated Blacks is out of proportion with the percent of the total population. The percentage of Black inmates in Kentucky prisons ranged from 23.86% in 2014 to 21.80% in 2018—more than two and half times the makeup of the population at large. Similarly, Black juveniles are overrepresented in juvenile detention facilities.
The task force found that a significant problem is the fact that data about Kentucky’s criminal justice system is limited and incomplete. That makes it difficult to identify disparities in the system.
The report recommends several steps to address inequities in the criminal justice system. These include greater transparency about arrests, convictions and incarceration rates for adults and juveniles; required racial impact statements before criminal justice policies are implemented; programs to improve the chances of success for people leaving prison and other reforms.
While greater opportunities for economic empowerment among people of color will lead to greater prosperity for all, the report noted, economic growth is not inclusive in Kentucky or the nation.
Research shows that white workers in the U.S. earn almost 30 percent more per hour on average than Black workers. In Kentucky, income and employment gaps are clearly evident. Unemployment and poverty rates are consistently and substantially higher for Black Kentuckians than for white Kentuckians.
Economic empowerment is an area where the private sector has a significant role to play, both independently and in support of government reforms, the report pointed out. This is critical because Kentucky has much to do to meet the challenges presented by these disparities.
For example, the report noted the limited transparency about some state programs designed to support minority-owned businesses. Similarly, more information is needed on the impact state economic development efforts and incentives have on different groups of Kentuckians.
The report recommends several steps to move toward equity in economic empowerment. Among them:
Within the private sector, information should be gathered and shared about effective business programs to recruit, employ, retain and hire people of color into leadership positions. Employers also should be encouraged to support a public pledge to work to ensure greater diversity in the workplace.
“Racial diversity, equity and inclusion are good for the bottom line — whether that reflects individual development, the profitability of business, the growth in tax revenue or the enhanced viability of communities,” the report concludes.
Members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Racial Inequality Task Force: