New Report: Blacks Make Big Gains in Iowa Population

William Petroski, Des Moines Register, April 3, 2010

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These recent arrivals represent a slice of the growth and future of Iowans with African heritage. The number of black Iowans nearly doubled to 80,516 between 1980 and 2008. They now represent 2.7 percent of all Iowans, census records show. That number is expected to more than double by 2040 to 172,770, which would be 5 percent of Iowa’s population.

These statistics are part of a new state snapshot, “African-Americans in Iowa: 2010.” Paired with 1980 census data, the report shows today’s black Iowans divided into haves and have-nots: More black Iowans own their own businesses and have earned high school and college degrees. But more than a third live in poverty, a higher percentage than a generation ago.

That troubling statistic could inhibit economic growth and well-being for the entire state, Iowa leaders say.

Blacks make gains, but gaps remain

What’s driving the population growth? The migration of black people from other states and foreign countries and a higher birth rate for blacks than for Iowa’s overall population, said Iowa State University sociologist Sandra Burke. This is consistent with a trend over the past four decades.

Former Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels, who heads Iowa’s Department of Human Rights, said the dramatic increase of Iowa’s Latino population, now 4.2 percent of the state’s total, has tended to overshadow the increasing numbers of black Iowans and their progress in recent years.

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Seventy-nine percent of black Iowans ages 25 and older in 2008 had at least a high school education. That’s up from 61 percent in 1980, according to census records. About 16 percent had a bachelor’s degree, compared with 12 percent in 1980.

But other statistics indicate a wide gap in the well-being of black Iowans vs. all state residents.

* The poverty rate for black Iowans was 35.6 percent in 2008, compared with 11.5 percent of all state residents, census records show. That’s higher than in 1979, when 28.2 percent of black Iowans lived in poverty, compared with 10.1 percent for all Iowans.

* Of black Iowans ages 16 and older, 64.9 percent were in the labor force in 2008, compared with 70.2 percent of all Iowans.

* The median income of black families in 2008 was $27,000, compared with $61,663 for all Iowans.

* Black Iowans are more likely than other Iowans to wind up in prison.

The most recent unemployment information for black Iowans showed a jobless rate of 8.9 percent in 2008, compared with 3.9 percent for all Iowans.

Nationally, the unemployment rate in March was 16.5 percent for black Americans and 9.7 percent for the overall population.

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Changing population creates some tension

A steady influx of black people to Iowa, many from Chicago, Milwaukee and other urban areas, has created tension in some Iowa communities.

White, blue-collar Charles City in northern Iowa, with about 7,500 residents, experienced some social friction about five years ago when 25 families moved from Chicago to take advantage of more readily available public housing. Within about two years, 44 black children from Chicago enrolled in Charles City’s public schools.

Some residents complained of spikes in crime at the time, but police denied it. Mayor James Erb said recently there is still some grumbling related to residents in public housing, but people are generally getting along.

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“I love it here. The safety is the biggest thing,” Jones [Dorothy Jones, a black newcomer from Chicago] said.

Burlington, population 25,300, like some of Iowa’s other Mississippi River communities, has also gained new black residents from Chicago. Many have come to work for Tyson Foods in nearby Columbus Junction.

That has led to unease among some older residents who aren’t used to seeing groups of young black people standing on Central Avenue, a major traffic artery, said City Manager Douglas Worden.

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Community leaders have worked hard to provide diversity forums and training, which have been well received, “but we still have a ways to go,” Worden added.

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