It’s easy to look at outward signs of prosperity and assume that Dallas County is doing just fine. But that’s like proclaiming a movie to be a cinematic gem based only on watching its trailer.
Despite its many shiny new buildings, Dallas County is actually getting poorer — and its income disparity continues to play out along racial lines, according to a new report from the Communities Foundation of Texas. Removing barriers to economic success is crucial to growing the county’s tax base and producing a pool of skilled workers and middle-class consumers.
Dallas County must face the troubling reality that, by many measures, it is an outlier in Texas — and not in a positive way. From 1999 to 2015, median household income in the county plunged 16 percent, an eightfold faster decline than Texas as a whole. During that same time, the county’s median household income was $10,000 lower than that of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area. On average, Hispanic workers earned 58 cents and African-American workers earned 54 cents for every dollar earned by white workers in the county.
Draw a line east to west through the center of a county map and you’ll see another problem.
More than 60 percent of adults who live north of that line will have at least an associate’s college degree; south of the line, which encompasses mostly minority neighborhoods, the percentage plummets to less than 20 percent.
Equally disheartening is this statistic: Just 16.5 percent of 8th-grade students countywide in 2006 graduated from a Texas college or university by the end of 2017.
While there are lots of reasons for the disparities, these trends are unacceptable and crippling to Dallas’ claim to be a city and county on the rise. For true success to be realized, earning potential must improve for those caught on the wrong side of economic and demographic trends.
By 2050, Dallas County is expected to be home to 3.3 million people, up nearly 800,000 residents, with minorities comprising 88 percent of that total. Without adequate educational opportunities, better housing and transportation options to better jobs, the county risks eroding from within.
Not all of the responsibility for reversing these trends should fall to city and county governments. There’s a role for nonprofits, which are the Communities Foundation’s target audience, to reassess how effectively they deliver services, too.
Among the key questions that must be answered:
Do innovative ways exist to better connect people with skills training and job opportunities?Because child care is a major problem for many low-income workers, could a public-private philanthropic partnership provide additional funding to subsidize child care for working families in conjunction with workforce programs? Are there ways nonprofits and private-sector employers can substantially reduce home-to-work travel times? What incentives might be created to encourage businesses and jobs in minority communities?
These aren’t easy questions. But the entire community must take up this core challenge of making our economy work for all of its residents.