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A Nov. 16 article in USA Today, that listed the 15 worst cities for black Americans included Racine. Landing at no. 3 on the list, just behind the metro Milwaukee area and Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, metropolitan area, the list was created by examining a set of eight data points.

“Racine, Wisconsin, is one of several Rust Belt cities where social and economic outcomes for black residents fall well behind those of white area residents. For example, the typical black household in the Racine metro area earns just $26,888 a year, less than half the $63,507 annual income the typical white household in the area earns,” according to the article.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason was not too thrilled to find the city on the list. Again. Racine made an appearance on the same list a year ago, just a few days after he was sworn into office. Mason sat down with Racine County Eye to discuss some of the implications of the article, and more importantly how the City of Racine will address the issues pointed out in the article.

Tackling racism in Racine with dialogue, education

Racine County Eye: What impact does this article have on the city? Does it have a negative impact on companies that might be looking at Racine?
Cory Mason: It reminds us is that the effects of racism are real, and that they have long-lasting consequences. For anyone from Racine, these inequalities aren’t news. This is what we have been addressing for a long time.

RCE: How has the city been addressing these issues?
CM: We’ve been very much engaged (with) healthcare disparity, income inequalities, or the work we’ve doing in partnership with the County. (We have been working) with United Way, Higher Expectations and others to reduce inequalities and to get people training opportunities to get them into family-supporting wage jobs. That has been a primary focus of what the City has been doing, and what the City has been doing in collaboration with Gateway Technical College and the (Racine Unified) School District. There is a lot of work to be done.

It reminds us what we know. It also reminds us that this is a regional challenge. It’s not an analysis of Racine, it’s an analysis of the (Racine County) metro area. The disparities become greater when you look at the region.

RCE: Why is that distinction important?
CM: It’s a regional challenge and will require regional solutions. The City has to play a leadership role, but it can’t do it alone. We have to work with our neighbors and the County.

RCE: In the immediate wake of the article did you hear from people about what it does to the Racine’s reputation?
CM: It certainly something you want to see real progress on. There are different ways to go at it. the important thing is how we show we are making progress in the areas the article identified. And there is plan to move us forward on these topics, whether it’s around housing or wages or (other areas).

We have a new governor and we are beginning to have a discussion around policy. A big indicator they use in this report is around wages. It’s really difficult to reduce the income gap when the minimum wage has been stuck stubbornly at $7.25 for more than a decade. Cities don’t have the authority to do anything about that because the State Legislature took it away.

RCE: Then how do you address wage disparity?
CM: We need policy solutions to deal with this. But, I have been saying this since Foxconn (announced it was coming to Racine County). It’s a generational opportunity to rebuild the Middle Class in Racine because Foxconn is coming here. It’s a core reason I have been supportive of it from the start. But we have to be intentional about it. We have to be sure the economic opportunities that are coming are broadly shared. It’s a challenge we have, but with some hard work and intention it’s the best opportunity we have to rebuild the Middle Class. We have to seize it.

This is the first installment of a four-part question and answer interview. We’ll be running this series over the next week.

Rex Davenport

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.