On Springfield

Mind the Gap

A new report by the Urban Institute looks at race-based inequities in the largest cities in the U.S.—and Springfield does not do well.

The report looked at “opportunity gaps” between African Americans, Latinos and whites by evaluating how each group fares in areas including income, employment, school test scores and home ownership rates, neighborhood segregation.

Of the 100 cities surveyed, Springfield had the largest disparities between white and Latino residents, scoring a grade of “F.” Hartford and Providence finished just behind Springfield, according to the report, which found that, overall, that race-based gaps were greatest in the Northeast.

Springfield’s African-American population fared only slightly better that its Latinos: with a grade of “D,” Springfield had the 23rd biggest gap between whites and blacks.

An article on the report in this morning’s USA Today included a quote from former City Councilor Jose Tosado: “I believe the study is very much on target. I wish I could say this kind of data surprises me.”

Later, when I spoke to Tosado, he reiterated that sentiment. “In terms of the results of this study, while appalling, I think it’s fairly accurate,” he said.

In his unsuccessful bid for mayor last year, Tosado focused on race-based inequities in the city, especially in education. It’s no secret, he said, that the city’s poorest neighborhoods are in trouble, but are given scant attention. “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.

Tosado—no fool—declined to offer a quick-quote solution to the problem. “I think that this issue is large. I don’t think the sound bite, or cute little slogans, are going to resolve the issue,” he said.

But he did suggest one thing that could help ease those disparities (and that, not incidentally, surely would have helped his chances of winning 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.”

And, he added, change needs to start with the city’s Latino leadership (a group that’s not unfamiliar with nasty 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.

“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,” Tosado continued. But given the especially daunting challenges facing the city’s Latinos, he said, “I think we have a bigger responsibility to try to work together for the greater good.”

In the same way the city is focusing on rebuilding physical properties after last June’s freak tornadoes, Tosado said, “there needs to be a really aggressive plan to rebuild our human stock.”

© 2014 The Valley Advocate