Racial equity has taken center stage as an issue requiring national and local attention, and the inequities that have persisted across our country are also, unfortunately, a fact of life in MetroWest. We are a region that has built a reputation of being family-oriented, with access to quality education, opportunities in well-paying careers and a good quality of life. But we are not immune to the complex challenges racial disparities present in America.
When incidences of racial violence and police brutality became the focal point of conversation in the summer of 2020, the Foundation for MetroWest joined with many others to continue to learn about and better understand why our country is still struggling with racial injustice. We found it incumbent on us to further examine how these inequalities persist in our region, which is why we wanted to refresh Impact MetroWest, our data indicator project designed to shed light on our region’s successes and challenges.
As we recognized the one-year anniversary of its release, we realized how much our current data highlights the longstanding divides in our communities that impact our Black and brown neighbors. We saw an opportunity to expand this data set while also providing a window for all of us to better educate ourselves around systemic racism.
The systems and laws that we currently and historically have operated under were built as a means of allowing and even encouraging disparities to exist, and they result in an invisible infrastructure that determines who will be permitted to succeed and who will not. From education to workforce opportunities to the hope of buying a home — all of which are interconnected — when you are at a disadvantage from birth, that gap becomes harder and harder to close.
As a region known for our strengths, these barriers to access in creating equity for our Black and brown neighbors are issues we should all care about. As the Foundation dug deeper into the data and connected the dots between third grade reading levels, median incomes and the homeownership rates of different demographic groups, the contrast was stark.
One indicator shows third-grade students in MetroWest from economically disadvantaged backgrounds had a reading proficiency rate of 38% in 2019, compared to 71% of those who were economically advantaged. The proficiency rate was lowest among the region’s Black (43%) and Latino (38%) students. And it is likely that these gaps will only be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, inevitably leading to larger disparities in the future.
Additionally, from 2014 to 2018, median incomes were substantially lower among Black ($59,000) and Latino ($52,000) households in our region, compared to white ($92,000) households. These large and persistent disparities in income are the result of historic and current policies and practices that have consistently disadvantaged people of color. Research has connected slavery and the inability of Black Americans even after emancipation to fully participate in economic life to the wealth and income gaps still present today.
Lastly, MetroWest has greater racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership rates than the nation as a whole. From 2014 to 2018, the homeownership rate was 68% among white residents, compared to 35% among Black residents and 31% among Latino residents.
Disparities in homeownership are intertwined with other racial inequities in education, financial services, the labor market and intergenerational wealth. Historic practices including redlining, exclusionary mortgage practices and restrictive covenants barring property from being owned by members of specific groups directly locked Black and brown families out of homeownership. These policies and practices had intergenerational effects, as people of color were unable to benefit from the wealth transfers of home equity that white homebuyers enjoyed.
Though these injustices may not seem evident as we go about our daily lives, the data is indisputable. MetroWest is facing the same issues as other regions across the country.
Because these disparities are so deeply interwoven into the fabric of our society, the Foundation for MetroWest does not pretend to have the solutions to these inequities and challenges.
Change starts with identifying the data points that show how we, as a society and community, are trending, acknowledging that we must do better and collectively beginning to use this knowledge to close the gaps that continue to hold our neighbors back. Our community thrives when all of our neighbors are given equal opportunity to succeed. That requires a deep understanding of our past and present — and a commitment to taking informed action to better our future.
Visit Impact MetroWest to learn more about the other key racial trends and challenges in our region.
Jay Kim is executive director of the Foundation for MetroWest, the only community foundation serving the MetroWest region of Greater Boston.