New report makes economic case for improving racial equity in Michigan

Most arguments in favor of racial equality appeal to people's sense of social justice, but an economic case can be made as well. That's the focus of The Business Case for Racial Equality in Michigan: A Strategy for Growth, a new report produced by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Altarum.


The report found that Michigan could see a $92 billion gain in economic output by 2050 if racial disparities in health, education, incarceration, and employment were addressed and eliminated. For example, reducing health disparities would impact productivity and profitability and reduce excess medical costs.


The new Michigan report is an update to an early 2015 report about Michigan. It was released last week at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Kellogg and Altarum published a nationwide analysis in April as well.


Ani Turner, co-director of sustainable health spending strategies at Altarum, led the research. She says the newest version of the Michigan analysis updates facts and figures and includes more information highlighting effective strategies to improve equity in areas like housing, health, and jobs.


The Perry Early Learning Center in Ypsilanti is mentioned in the report as an example of effective early childhood intervention to improve life outcomes for children of color. While many people have hypothesized that giving children a good early start should create better outcomes over a lifetime, Perry proved the point with a long-term study that followed children in the program, as well as a control group, for decades.


"The virtue of the Perry preschool program and subsequent periodic analyses followed these kids well into middle age and was therefore able to demonstrate that, compared to kids not in the program, the participants had all these kinds of positive life outcomes like greater earnings and less teen pregnancy," Turner says. "It's a very quality intervention."


Methodology for determining the various dollar figures in the report involved using existing models to track the difference between what one would expect to see in a completely equitable society and what conditions currently exist, she says.


"If you're living in an equitable society and you're looking at outcomes like how much someone earns or their health status or the rates at which they're incarcerated, you would not expect to see huge differences by racial or ethnic group," Turner says.
Instead, in Michigan and around the country, gaps are still very large. For example, Turner notes that people of color in Michigan today make a little less than two-thirds what a non-Hispanic white person of the same age would make.


A more equitable society would mean more educational, health, and job opportunities for people of color and increased economic activity, Turner says.


In today's employment environment, employers are looking for workers with greater skills, she says, but Michigan's workforce is aging and will soon retire and draw on Social Security and Medicare. People of color are expected to make up about 40 percent of Michigan's workforce by 2050, so ensuring people of color have training and employment opportunities is crucial to the future of Michigan's economy.


"When we're creating the workforce, and the tax base, of the future, we really need to be bringing up opportunities for populations that have had less opportunity in the past," Turner says. "The productive population of the future, the prime taxpayers of the future, are today's kids, and they're the ones we need to be investing in now."


The full study is available for download here. The report is free, but the website asks visitors to enter a first name and email address so the Kellogg Foundation can track how widely the report is being read.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at

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