KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Reducing inequality, including health disparities, is key to the economic growth of metropolitan Kansas City, a policy expert said Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
“The message is that paying attention to equity is actually good for competitiveness, prosperity, and business,” said Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
His program, along with another organizational partner, prepared an equity profile (pdf) for a nine-county region in the metropolitan area. The study area included five Missouri counties and four Kansas counties, including Johnson and Wyandotte.
Pastor highlighted some of the findings in the equity profile, which the organizations completed recently for the Mid-America Regional Council and the local Regional Equity Network, a coalition of five community groups.
An overriding point, he said, is that people of color are the fastest growing segment of the local population, but they also tend to be on the short end of the inequality measures.
Increasingly, Pastor said, research is suggesting “that this level of inequality is actually not only corrosive to our politics, but it’s actually bad for our economic health.”
Within the past decade, according to the report, the regional Latino population grew 78 percent while the white population increased by 5 percent.
Among the report findings:
- More than one in four blacks and Latinos live below the poverty line – more than triple the rate for whites.
- While more than a third of the jobs in Missouri and Kansas will require at least two years of college within the next five years, just 29 percent of the region’s U.S.-born Latinos currently have that level of schooling.
- The share of neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of the households are poor more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, and minorities were nine times more likely than whites to live in those neighborhoods
On health, the equity profile revealed that roughly four in 10 of the blacks in the region are obese, about 42 percent above the rate for the population as a whole.
Latinos and Asians came out better than average on across-the-board measures, which included prevalence of diabetes and asthma among adults, while whites fared about average.
Health is “really one of the most fundamental building blocks in terms of equity,” Pastor said. You need a healthy workforce for productivity, he said.
Given that many of those measures, such as diabetes rates, can take several years to bring down, Pastor said communities should establish “interim indicators” to measure progress.
“Like we know if we put food in peoples’ community, that’s eventually going to produce a better diet,” he said. “We know that if people get a chance to exercise, that is going to help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. We know that if we can encourage people not to smoke, that will reduce cancer.”
As executive director of the Westside Housing Organization in Kansas City, Mo., Gloria Ortiz-Fisher said she has seen the connection between health and housing through an asthma project her organization is working on with Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics.
Ortiz-Fisher is part of the Regional Equity Network through her work with the Latino Civic Engagement Collaborative
She said the equity network has achieved several milestones in its work, including introducing equity growth ideas into regional transportation planning.
The equity group is having a meeting next month to continue working on reducing inequality in the region
“It is really about prosperity for the business and … for economic growth that works for everybody,” she said.