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Between the Lines: A Dangerous Gap

A national study looks at racial equity in Springfield.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

A new report from the Urban Institute finds that the "opportunity gap" between whites and Latinos is greater in Springfield than in any other city in the country.

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit looks at 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S., comparing how African Americans, Latinos and whites fare in areas including income, employment, school test scores, home ownership rates and neighborhood segregation.

According to the results, Springfield came in dead last, at number 100, with the biggest gap between whites and Latinos, earning it a score of "F".

The city also ranked 77th on the list that compared the gap between whites and African-Americans, with a "D" grade.

According to the 2010 federal census, Springfield's population of 153,060 is 51.8 percent white and 22.3 percent black; 38.8 percent of residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin, a census classification that can include people of any race who identify as Hispanic.

Former city councilor and 2011 mayoral candidate José Tosado described the Urban Institute findings as unfortunately unsurprising. "In terms of the results of this study, while appalling, I think it's fairly accurate," he told the Advocate.

Tosado was Springfield's first Latino city councilor and, had he won last year's race, would have been its first Latino mayor; instead, he lost 28 percent to 72 percent to incumbent mayor Domenic Sarno. Tosado's campaign focused, in part, on race-based inequities in the city, especially in education. It's no secret, Tosado said, that the city's poorest neighborhoods are in trouble.

"It's been that way for a long time, and despite all the rhetoric by people in power, and politicians in particular, nothing ever happens," he said. "I think that this issue is large. I don't think the sound bite, or cute little slogans, are going to resolve the issue."

But Tosado did suggest one thing that could help ease those disparities (and that, not incidentally, undoubtedly would have helped his chances in the mayor's race): increased political involvement in the Latino community, which posts the lowest voter turnout rates in the city.

"Whether it's a municipal election, state-wide election, or a national election, Latinos in Springfield are not voting in proportion to their numbers," Tosado said. "I think that has an impact." In the November municipal election, for instance, only 16 percent of registered voters in the largely Latino Ward 1 cast ballots; in Ward 3, only 11 percent did. By comparison, in Ward 7, the city's whitest and most affluent section, voter turnout was 34 percent.

In Tosado's opinion, change needs to start with the city's Latino leadership, a group sometimes divided by internal power struggles. "I think Latino leaders really need to come together. One of the large problems in Springfield is we, as a Latino community, really don't unite," he said. "I'm not trying to bash Latino culture, Latino people—it's true in any racial or ethnic group [that] there's differences between people." But given the especially daunting challenges facing the community, he said, "I think we have a bigger responsibility to try to work together for the greater good."

Springfield wasn't the only New England city to do poorly in the Urban Institute report; the greater Hartford region and the Providence/New Bedford/Fall River area were right next to Springfield on the list of cities with the largest gaps between Latinos and whites, at numbers 99 and 98 respectively. Worcester was at 95; Boston/Cambridge/Quincy at 94. Interestingly, Portland, Maine, had one of the smallest gaps between Latinos and whites, ranking number three.

On the list that looked at the gap between African-Americans and whites, the Hartford area scored slightly better than Springfield, at number 76. Boston/Cambridge/Quincy ranked 82nd, and Providence ranked 69th. Worcester scored comparatively well, at number 55—a "C" grade.

Overall, the report found that Latinos and African-Americans in Southern and Western states are most likely to do as well as white residents.

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