Miami-Dade Can't Afford to Study Racial Disparity Anymore, Commissioners Say

Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson
Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson Photo by Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images
Update: After publication, the Miami-Dade Economic Advisory Trust released a statement claiming it sought to repeal the county rule requiring the 10-year study because it releases a scorecard every two years that is more useful.

In Miami, black residents are likelier than white residents to be disciplined at school or arrested for a crime. They're less likely to have savings or to own homes. In other words, in 2019, racial inequality is still a persistent problem in education, criminal justice, wealth, and housing.

But this week, Miami-Dade commissioners voted to repeal a county rule requiring that a study be conducted every ten years on the status of black residents. In an item sponsored by Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, county staff said the Economic Advocacy Trust — an agency created to address the economic disparity in Miami-Dade — doesn't have the money to do it anymore.

"The trust has limited resources," the agenda item says, "and can no longer afford to conduct the disparity study required by the code."

Edmonson was unavailable yesterday to discuss the measure. Her staff tells New Times she backed the item at the request of the Economic Advocacy Trust.

Formed in the wake of Miami's deadly 1980 race riots, the agency released studies in 1983, 1993, and 2007 that made recommendations on how to improve gaps in housing, education, economics, and criminal justice. The most recent one found the disparities that existed in 1983 still lingered almost 30 years later. Though progress had been made in education and more black-owned businesses had opened, major gaps remained in housing, criminal justice, and access to public health care.

"Miami-Dade County over the last 30 years has only made modest progress toward the goal of eradicating the economic and social disparity between the Black community and the Miami-Dade community-at-large," the report reads.

In fact, the county's black population was so concerned about job prospects, educational opportunities, and housing that many people were moving away. The study, conducted by Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, indicates a "brain drain" of middle-class black residents.

Researchers recommend expanding networking, scholarship, and mentorship networks, as well as advocating for higher spending on public education. They warn that the loss of black, middle-class residents was a serious problem.

"If Miami-Dade government does not work to reverse the factors that have led to the 'Brain Drain,'" the study says, "poverty within the Black community will perpetuate."

More than ten years later, the study hasn't been updated despite the county code requirement. It's unclear if the county implemented the recommendations or if the "brain drain" has been stemmed in any meaningful way. The Economic Advocacy Trust says it would cost $350,000 to $500,000 to conduct a new study, and that's more than it can afford.

The ordinance removing the study requirement passed 9-0 on first reading Wednesday. It'll have a public hearing at the September 9 Housing and Social Services Committee meeting and then, if passed, return to the full county commission for a final vote.

On July 15, three days after this story was published, the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust released the following statement: 
Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust (MDEAT) determined that conducting an Annual Report Card and Scorecard every two years would identify more relevant data in its pursuit to combat disparities with local communities within Miami-Dade County.

By ordinance, MDEAT is required to conduct a 10-year Community Disparity Study.  MDEAT has proffered legislation removing this requirement because the data gathered in the Annual Report Card and Scorecard is collected in a shorter time frame with a greater opportunity to respond to patterns and trends in the two-year study. MDEAT uses the Scorecard to implement initiatives in the community.

Available at MiamiDade.Gov/EconomicAdvocacyTrust you will find the current Annual Report Card and Scorecard produced by the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University for the year 2018.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas