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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

New Report Connects Income And Racial Segregation In Dallas County

Allison V. Smith for KERA News
KERA News special contributor
A man walks along Navaro Street in West Dallas.

A new study by the Communities Foundation of Texas and the left-leaning Center For Public Policy Priorities evaluated education, employment, debt, housing and healthcare across Dallas County. 

The data show experiences vary greatly from zip code to zip code.

Phrases like "recession-proof" and "Texas Miracle" get thrown around a lot in the state. Dallas' unemployment rate has been under 4 percent for eight straight months. Mayor Mike Rawlings says that doesn't mean everything is rosy.

"I am a believer that this city is very successful," he said. "But today, we're going to focus on the glass half empty."

Meaning, Dallas struggles with poverty and inequality. For example in 1999, median household income in Dallas County was $62,000. In 2015, it had dropped to $52,000. That's a decline of 16 percent. The state of Texas only saw a 2 percent drop over the same time frame.

Frances Deviney, chief operating officer for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, announced these results and more from the study at news conference Tuesday.

"It's not necessarily that a person is working at the same job they were working at 15 years ago and they're being paid less for that job,” she said. “What's happening is that the jobs that people were working 15 years ago may not exist anymore, and so they've had to get different jobs that pay less."

While the unemployment rate is low, the jobs people have don't come with a big enough paycheck. And that's been true for a while.

"Particularly after the economic crisis of 2008, Texas was one of the first states to come out of it,” Deviney said. “We came out of it very strong, but what we noticed when we looked at the data was that we lost good, mid-wage jobs. And the jobs that we gained back were low-wage jobs."

In 1999, median household income in Dallas County was $62,000. In 2015, it had dropped to $52,000.

Racial disparities

The data from this report also show there's a connection between income and racial segregation in Dallas County. High-income homes are grouped together in north-central Dallas — a predominantly white area. Low-income homes are concentrated in neighborhoods with more people of color. There are 11 census tracks in Dallas County where more than half the residents live in poverty, and the majority of those are south of downtown.

"Even though we may not have the same kinds of overt racism in our policies that we had in the 1900s, we're still working our way out of it, and we still need to make sure that our policies and our practices look at the data and say, ‘OK, you know what? This zip code and this group of people need something different to be able to balance the scales,’” Deviney said.

Right now, the report shows the scales aren't balanced. Deviney says the average white worker in Dallas County with just a high school diploma earns nearly as much as the average Latino or black worker with an associate’s degree. People of color are more likely to be unemployed and the average black worker makes 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white worker.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says that has to change, and it needs to start with local business owner.

The average black worker makes 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white worker.

"Look at the salaries of the people who work for you: the women, the single moms who work for you, African-Americans who work for you, Hispanics who work for you,” he said. “If they're not making the same amount of money as Anglos doing the same job, look in the mirror and think about what you're going to do about that."

The data painted an optimistic picture of a few things. The number of Dallas County residents with health insurance has increased by 322,000 since 2009. The Center for Public Policy Priorities attributes that to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Both violent crime and property crime have also seen a steady decline over the last decade.

Read the full report

Dallas Economic Opportunity Assessment 2018 by KERANews on Scribd

The Communities Foundation of Texas is a financial supporter of KERA's One Crisis Away Initiative.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.