Class, opportunity discussed in annual forum on racial attitudes

State Sen. Joyce Elliott moderated a panel of civic leaders who discussed survey findings on what socio-economic status and opportunity means to central Arkansas residents during the 11th Annual Racial Attitudes Forum hosted by the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity.2014 Racial Attitudes forum hosted by Institute on Race and Ethnicity at UALR

The panelists discussed key topics in the 2014 survey including business practices and consumer behavior, taxes, public policy, small business ownership, employment, and what role education plays in financial stability.

The UALR Institute of Government has conducted the Racial Attitudes surveys since the beginning of UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson’s tenure in 2003.

Titled “Money, Class and Opportunity,” the event included opening comments from Dr. Anderson and other UALR representatives. “As I like to say at these conferences, you have to face it to fix it,” Anderson said.

“I would challenge you to find another place in the country that tackles this issue head on,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the UALR Institute of Government. “We are entering our second decade of conducting these surveys and that is a remarkable feat.”

Bacot said universities across the nation have downloaded prior years’ surveys over 70 times and the continued interest in the research is a testament to Chancellor Anderson’s vision to encourage open dialogue on race and ethnicity.

Information drawn from the survey and summarized in a snapshot indicate that most respondents identify as middle class, but blacks and Hispanics see themselves in the lower class when compared to whites. More lower-income residents believe they pay too much in federal taxes, but all groups, especially blacks, believe upper-income people pay too little.

The 2014 survey report was released online the day of the conference in lieu of printed copies in recognition of the university’s commitment to sustainability.

Dr. Michael R. Twyman, director of the Institute on Race and Ethnicity at
UALR, said Thursday’s forum had three primary objectives.

One objective was to amplify the representative sampling of the survey as it related to class, finance and business. Another was to compare and contrast the survey data, and the final objective was to use the day’s discussion as a launching pad to influence policy decisions.

Before the panelists took the stage, Chief Economist and State Economic Forecaster Dr. Michael Pakko of UALR’s Institute for Economic Advancement provided an economic overview of Pulaski County.

Pakko said that, at 81 percent, Arkansas was well below the national average in terms of personal income per capita. However, Pulaski County’s income level provided area residents somewhat of an “economic oasis” since its employment levels were above the national average.

On the other hand, unemployment rates were considerably higher for certain
ethnic groups including blacks and Hispanics, according to Pakko. Regardless of race, there was a direct relationship between higher levels of educational attainment and gainful employment, Pakko said.

In addition, Pulaski County is one of only 22 counties in the state (out of 75) to see positive population growth, he said.

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