Report: State Budget Hampers Minority Opportunity

Maryland’s state budget inherently presents barriers to prosperity for people of color and has done so for years, according to a report issued Tuesday by a liberal think tank. On a range of basic government services – health care, education and transportation – the state budget shortchanges minority communities and makes it more difficult for African-American and Latino families to succeed, the study found. The report from the Baltimore-based Maryland Center on Economic Policy, called “Budgeting for Opportunity,” urges state policymakers to reorder their priorities by advancing programs that “deliver broadly shared prosperity.” “Maryland’s budget provides the clearest reflection of our priorities as a state,” the report, written by MDCEP Research Analyst Christopher Meyer, begins. “Choices about where we invest our shared resources can help or hinder children’s education, economic security for families and communities, and public health and safety. Put another way, our budget is a moral document — one that can guide us toward shared prosperity and opportunity for all or toward ever-increasing concentrations of wealth and power in a few hands.”  Christopher Meyer, author of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy report  The statistics and anecdotal information in the study, while hardly surprising, are nevertheless stark reminders of the challenges minority families face in everyday life, even in a relatively healthy economy – and the impediments government policies, however inadvertently, present in their lives. Some of these policies are the legacy of the long history of housing segregation in Maryland and will take years to undo, Meyer argues. According to the MDCEP:

  • Typical white-headed households in Maryland take home about $26,000 more each year than typical black-headed households, while African-American workers are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers.
  • Black-headed households whose income is between $100,000 and $125,000 live in neighborhoods with lower incomes and higher poverty rates than white-headed households with incomes between $60,000 and $75,000.
  • As a result of past housing and transportation policies, black workers lose more hours each year to long commutes than white workers.
  • Latino children are the only group to experience an increase in infant mortality rates in recent years, and minority children suffer from asthma, and are exposed to lead poisoning, at a far greater rate than white children.
  • On average, black Marylanders die three years earlier than white Marylanders, and black men die five years earlier on average than white men.
  • While 6.1 percent of Marylanders were without health insurance in 2016, more than one in five Latinos had no insurance, compared to just one in 30 whites who were uninsured. Black Marylanders are more likely to live in jurisdictions with less access to high-quality clinical care, meaning they are waiting longer for appointments and paying more out of pocket for medical care.
  • Counties with a larger share of African-American residents than heavily white counties have worse food environments, meaning they are more likely to live great distances from a grocery store or have trouble affording food.

For these and other challenges, the center recommends targeted investments in programs that would raise up minority communities and promote fairness. To improve health care, the MDCEP said, the state must stabilize and expand access to health insurance; pay competitive reimbursement rates; improve infant health; and work aggressively to combat potential lead poisoning. To improve educational opportunities for minority students, the report said the state must do a better job of explicitly directing resources to underserved schools in minority communities. The state must also update the school funding formula; commit to full education funding in the near future; and invest in modern school facilities. To improve opportunity for black and Latino Marylanders on the transportation front, the state must: boost investments in transit; increase access to cars; and tackle housing segregation. Some of these policy issues are already being debated in the course of the 2018 election for governor and in other races. School funding debates will be front and center when the so-called Kirwan Commission issues its final recommendations for education spending formulas. In an interview, Meyer said the Maryland CEP purposely did not specifically calculate the costs of its goals. “Each policy recommendation is a decision we’d have to make within the state budget,” he said, adding that it’s up to advocates to persuade lawmakers that the proposed investments are for the common good and will pay off in the long run. The Maryland Center on Economic Opportunity is hosting a daylong event Saturday to advance the conversation on its blueprint for “broadly shared prosperity,” with Alice Rivlin, the former Clinton administration budget director who is a senior fellow in Economic Studies and the Center for Health Policy at the Brookings Institution and the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, as the main speaker. The conference will also feature panel discussions about the state budget and state revenues. The conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia. For more information, click here. [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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