COVID-19 and racial inequities necessitate a new path forward for the Decatur City Council
On June 21, 2019, the Decatur City Council met to discuss strategic goals for the city. Our city has changed dramatically since last year and the city council has an opportunity to reevaluate the direction of the city as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued lack of racial equity.
For years, the city of Decatur has faced significant challenges including substantial population decline, lower median household income, higher poverty and racial inequity. These challenges have since been exacerbated by COVID-19, where over a one-month period the city’s unemployment rate rose to 17.7%, and the effects of the pandemic are disproportionately impacting Black Americans, seniors, and those of lower socio-economic levels.
MANY STRATEGIES ADOPTED BY CITY COUNCIL IN 2019 SHOULD BE RECONSIDERED
One of the strategies the city council adopted last year was to “Obtain a grant or other funding to finance and deliver a new … training program … that can attract workers from outside the market area … to fill unfilled jobs in Macon County with housing and other incentives”. With over 6,500 fewer employed individuals in Decatur between February and April 2020, and only ~600 job listings in April, there is a major gap between the number of workers and the number of jobs available. It is time for the City of Decatur to assist residents who have recently lost jobs fill new ones.
CURRENT RACIAL DISPARITIES IN DECATUR
The National League of Cities defines racial equity as “’Closing the gaps’ so that race does not predict one’s success, while also improving outcomes for all.” Decatur does not have racial equity, and has been ranked as having among the highest levels of racial disparities in the U.S. Based on 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, median income for black families was $21,871 (below the poverty threshold for a family of four) compared to $51,662 for white families and black homeownership rates were 36.4% compared to 75.9% for whites. These racial disparities are unacceptable, and the city council should make fostering equitable relationships including racial equity one of its strategic goals.
THE TIME IS NOW FOR THE CITY COUNCIL TO FACILITATE THE CREATION OF A BOLD, ASPIRATIONAL, AND PROACTIVE PLAN FOR THE FUTURE OF DECATUR
One of the council’s priority goals is to “Create a bold and aspirational vision for the future of Decatur …” There may be no better opportunity than now to create a collaborative, inclusive and shared plan for the future of our city. This will not only allow us to recover from the pandemic, it will also address long-standing and significant challenges Decatur faces including population decline, lower median incomes, higher poverty, and lack of racial equity. Working together, we can and must lay the foundation for a city that will thrive for years to come.