October 2022

Franklin County’s Black residents earn more, but fewer own homes than Black residents elsewhere

Via The Columbus Dispatch

By Erica Thompson

A new study shows that Black residents of Franklin County earn higher median household incomes, own more businesses and have more college degrees than Black residents on average across the country.

However, they own fewer homes, commute via biking and walking less, and live in worse environmental conditions.

The Brookings Institution and NAACP released the data in the Black Progress Index, which seeks to measure the impact of social factors on the life expectancy of Black people.

According to the study, the average Black person in Franklin County — which has a Black population of 296,440 — lives 73.2 years, which puts the area in the 46th percentile nationally.

“You’re roughly in the middle,” said Andre Perry, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, which is based in Washington, D.C.  “We were expecting Columbus to be a little bit better. You’re generally doing OK, but you’re not crushing the game.”

Users can read an explanatory essay by Perry and search nearly 650 metropolitan areas and more than 1,400 counties on the chart to compare Black rankings in 13 metrics, in categories such as wealth, education, safety and environmental quality.

“Most discussions around the Black community are in comparison to white groups,” Perry said.

“When you only compare them to white people, you miss the variation of Black life that is occurring across the country. And it is suggested that Black people need to catch up to white people in order for there to be improvement. I really do believe if we are to address problems, we have to look to Black communities for those solutions.”

Here’s a breakdown of how Franklin County is performing:

Black income and home ownership in Franklin County

Franklin County ranks in the 61st percentile among Blacks nationwide with a median Black household income of $40,752, according to the index.

But only 32.9% of Black adults in Franklin County own their own homes, putting the area in the 20th percentile.

The statistic isn’t surprising, given the history of redlining in Columbus, said Sean Grant, the chief financial officer for the Columbus Partnership, One Columbus and Smart Columbus.

“We don’t have wealth to pass on,” he said. “We’ve been priced out of communities as they become gentrified.”

Organizations like the local branch of the NAACP and the Columbus Urban League are tackling this issue through affordable housing committees and home-buyer education classes, respectively.

“I think this is about education,” said Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League. “We’ve had people come through our home-buyer education program who are young, Black professionals in town, making six figures, but they come from families where no one has ever bought a home. This is a whole new journey for them.”

Black business ownership

According to the index, Franklin County ranks in the 88th percentile with 0.4% of Black adults owning a business.

Even though the county is outperforming others, Grant said he considers that number to be low, given that Blacks make up about 24% of Franklin County’s population, according to the latest Census data.

“We probably own roughly about 2% of all businesses,” he said.  “We’re not even batting at our weight. The hard thing is access to capital, access to a network (of customers). We feel like we’re underrepresented in this community by a lot.”

Educational achievement in the local Black community

In Franklin County, 34.9% of Black public school children score at or above proficiency on state math exams, putting the area in the 57th percentile nationwide.

When it comes to college degrees, Franklin County is performing better. The county ranks in the 73rd percentile with 20.8% of Black adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree.

Foreign-born Black residents

The report showed that the share of foreign-born Black residents contributes years to predicted Black life expectancy, and Franklin County ranks in the 89th percentile with 18.5% of Black adults born outside of the U.S.

“We know that Black immigrants are generally wealthier, generally healthier, but have less exposure to racism,” Perry said.

Connection between religion and Black life expectancy

The report also showed that Black people in areas with high levels of religious affiliation have lower life expectancies.

Here, Franklin County ranks in the 28th percentile of religious adherents per capita.

“Oftentimes, as a race, we go to church for spiritual guidance,” said Nana Watson, president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP. “Sometimes, other things are left out, like our physical and mental health. It takes a progressive pastor to address mind, body and soul.”

Gun violence

Watson said she was surprised Franklin County had lower firearm fatalities than other counties. According to the index, the county ranked in the 45th percentile with 14.5 Black people out of 100,000 dying from gun violence.

The number is still cause for concern, said Grant.

“Some of these issues just come with the nature of being a growing city,” he said. “(But) we have to be super critical of it now before we get too large, and it gets out of hand.”

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