Published on August 7, 2020
by Kurt Waltenbaugh
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd’s death sparked a reckoning over racial injustice that had been a long time coming in Minneapolis. The outrage-fueled protests and the resulting police response consumed the city, stripping bare any illusion that all of Minnesota’s citizens had equal access to the “Good Life” our state famously promoted.
In the days following the uprising, I turned to data to better understand what had brought our city to the point of implosion. My takeaway? Spending policies that sacrifice public health in the name of public safety — and then under-deliver on both — have created ever-larger health and opportunity gaps in favor of Minnesota’s white majority.
In Minneapolis, between the most recent county and city budgets, we spent $761 per capita on public safety. This includes expenditures on police, sheriff, courts, attorneys, and prisons. By contrast, we spent only $117 per capita from the same budgets on public health, which includes funding for community services that address issues like mental health and homelessness and can reduce the need to call in law enforcement to handle the fallout from social problems.
Who does this impact?
Three major risk areas that impact both health and safety are housing instability, food insecurity, and family finances.
We define these risks as follows:
Lack of permanent form of housing or presence of housing quality risks (lead paint, mold, inadequate cooling or heating, radon)
Inability to pay for or access healthy foods
Level of financial volatility due to bankruptcy, short-term loans, or high debt to asset ratio; low income, assets, home value, purchasing power
For these categories, Minnesotans have 20-30% less risk than the rest of the nation. In Hennepin County, where almost one-quarter of the population is wealthier than Minnesota as a whole, that risk is even lower.
Something interesting happens when we look more closely at Minneapolis, broken down by neighborhood and race. Taking race into consideration, it becomes clear that the higher the concentration of Black residents in a community, the higher the likelihood that the population will be subject to financial instability and experience a lack of adequate housing and food. In the “least risky” zip code of 55410, there are 35 white residents for each Black person. In the “most risky” zip code of 55411 that ratio becomes 1 white resident to 5 Black adults — a 175 times difference in concentration.
The chart below illustrates the concentration of risk across predominately Black versus predominantly white neighborhoods in our city. While white areas have 30-60% less risk than the national average, Black communities have 50-150% more risk.
This means that a Black child born in North Minneapolis is 2.5 times more likely to have unstable housing, 2 times more likely to grow up in poverty, and 1.6 times more likely to have limited access to food.
The health and opportunity gaps created by this situation increase the likelihood that law enforcement will be called upon to address the inevitable fallout of de-funded social and public health programs.
The result? A powder-keg of tension between a community in need and a law enforcement system that is ill-equipped to respond in the place of decimated social services. Add the pressures of a global pandemic, ensuing economic crisis, and racially motivated police brutality, and the fuse was lit.
How do we move forward? We shift our spending policies to right the spending imbalance and restore health initiatives and social programs to address the social determinants of health. We focus upstream and remove the barriers to health and opportunity — creating a healthier future for our communities.