Racism might have cost state its economy

BY EMILY LE COZ

Daily Journal

OXFORD – A new study could reveal that discrimination against minorities causes more harm than just the pain it inflicts upon the human soul.

It also might impair the economy.

Researchers at the University of Mississippi are evaluating the economic consequences of discrimination from the 1880s until today. The two-part study is sponsored by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, headquartered at Ole Miss.

Part one looks at the historical implications of discrimination; part two explores the contemporary implications.

Preliminary findings won't be available until late spring or early summer, but institute director Susan Glisson already believes evidence exists to prove a direct correlation between racism and economics.

For example, Mississippi has the lowest per-capita personal income of any state and the nation's highest population percentage of African-Americans, according to the Census Bureau.

“We understand that race and racism are inextricably tied to economics in terms of their effects, and we wanted to test out that theory in ways reflected in the actual experiences of Mississippians,” she said.

“Our hope is to show communities what racism costs so that people can understand and be more motivated to do something about it.”

Racism might be to blame for Mississippi's low economic standing compared to the rest of the nation, said Jon Moen, associate professor of economics and researcher for the first half of the study.

Mississippi's economy – like those of other Southern states that once allowed slavery – ranks among the worst nationwide in per capita and household incomes, poverty levels, educational attainment and other factors.

Mississippi without racism

One question Moen's research seeks to answer: What would Mississippi's per capita income have been if economic growth after 1880 had occurred without the discrimination that excluded so many people from the work force?

“Had Mississippi grown like other agricultural states without the same level of discrimination, what would our economy look like today?” Moen said. “Did the emphasis on certain products change in other states that allowed them to earn more money while Mississippi stuck with cotton?”

Moen admits that other factors the state couldn't control also likely contributed to its poor economic standing. With that in mind, he doesn't expect to see dramatic differences between the actual Mississippi and his “counterfactual” model.

Still, he said, even a slight economic improvement in his model could provide proof that racial discrimination has hurt the state and that funding for anti-discrimination programs is money well spent.

Underlying factors

That especially will be the case if researchers can determine on which areas such programs should focus their attention.

“We don't believe that if you have more melanin in the skin you are less productive by nature, so we want to know what underlies that correlation,” said Andrew Young, assistant professor of economics and the researcher for the second half of the study. Melanin is a substance in the skin that give skin its color.

“We established a negative correlation between the percentage of blacks and personal income,” he said. “So then we have to ask, Are there any other variables that are correlated with both that are actually the causal elements?'”

Young said he believes educational attainment might hold the key. Blacks, he said, either are not choosing to earn high school and college diplomas, being denied those degrees or have no incentives to get them.

“And that holds them back from economic growth,” he said. Discovering these correlations “gives us a hint on where to start doing more case studies.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com

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