(as published in the Sept. 30- Oct. 6, 2019 Chicago Defender)
When the topic of wealth is discussed, the state budget of Illinois is not typically the first thing that comes to mind. But when you consider the fact that the state of Illinois has an operating budget close to $55 billion and spends over $10 billion annually for goods and services, the state budget plays a major role in building wealth in certain communities. While the Black community primarily focuses on social services and jobs, when dealing with state government, the role of business and contracting opportunities cannot be ignored in the discussion of building wealth in the Black community.
It is no secret that historically, White men have dominated all aspects of business throughout the country. It is the institutionalized racism that was targeted by the affirmative action programs of the 60’s and 70’s that lasted through the 90’s. Those laws ensured that discrimination in the workplace was illegal, regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. Critics argued that affirmative action laws were unfair because they created racial quotas, “unfairly” denying Whites opportunities because of their race. In spite of years of systemic discrimination, many White’s argued they were victims of “reverse discrimination.” In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action programs were illegal, in the Grutter v. Bollinger case.
(Photo courtesy of http://resources2.news.com.au)
With that ruling, affirmative action programs around the country were dismantled, and Blacks saw their numbers drop at educational institutions, in the workplace, in contracting, and business. As those levels began to drop across the board and Black people complained to their elected officials, states attempted to address the issue by creating more “inclusive” programs. Those programs included other groups that had been subject to discrimination at the hands of White males. While White women, Latinos, Asians, Veterans, and the disabled have not suffered the same level of discrimination as Blacks, they were all included in the more “inclusive” programs, diluting Black participation in a program that was initially intended for Blacks.
The State of Illinois attempted to address the affirmative action issue by creating one of these more “inclusive “ programs. They called it the Business Enterprise Program, and more commonly referred to it as the BEP. The BEP establishes minority contracting goals for the more “inclusive” group at state agencies and state funded institutions, colleges and universities. These agencies are required to report the progress toward those goals annually. Based on the more “inclusive” minority group, one would think the Business Enterprise Program was a smashing success, but upon further examination, that success does not translate well for the Black community.
During fiscal year 2015, CMS Acting Director Tom Tyrell reported that BEP vendors did $425,822,468, which was 38.5% of the $1,106,236,144 subject to that goal. Of the 1,712 businesses in the BEP program, only 301 are Black. Those 301 businesses do a total combined business of $76,269,333 between state agencies and state funded universities, approximately 20.48% of the BEP. Comparatively, Latinos do $69,305, 191 or 18.61%, while Asians do 64,058,131 or 17.2%. But the most striking figure is the fact that White female own businesses do $156,410, 883, or 41.99% of the BEP.
Essentially, a program that was initially created to address inequities Blacks face in business due to institutional racism, has been taken over by White women who are often married to White men in similar businesses. In fact, White women do at least twice the amount of business as Blacks or any other group in the more “inclusive” program, effectively selling the reverse discrimination argument with the BEP to the detriment of Black businesses. If Black businesses are not able to participate in the state business that they pay taxes in they are not able to take part in the wealth comes for institutions that should spur economic growth.
This is exemplified by Chicago State University, which by all accounts, is the state’s HBCU (Historically Black College and University). Located on Chicago’s east side, Chicago State University sits in the heart of the Black community, and is a shining jewel of the community. Black legislators like former Senate President Emil Jones, Jr. and State Senator Donne E. Trotter have spent years directing dollars to Chicago State to ensure Black students have access to world-class learning facilities. Having expended so much Black political capital on Chicago State, the logical assumption is that like most universities, CSU would become the economic engine and anchor for the local business community.
With an annual budget of $88,061,276 and a BEP goal of $12,566,846, Chicago State only has a total of 7 Black contractors, contracts totaling a $318,856. While institutional racism is an issue throughout the state, the lack of wealth building opportunities at Chicago State is baffling. With a Black President, a predominately Black board, and administration, Blacks participating in the BEP program at a Black institution should not a problem. But according to the BEP report Chicago State is one of the worst offenders in the program as it relates to Black people. But Chicago State University is only one example.
Consider the Illinois Department of Corrections, which has a 65% Black population has an annual budget of $1,303,767,800 (billions) of which $30,125,105 is subject to BEP goals. Black businesses have a total of 10 contracts totaling, $951,367 while White women have 47 contracts totaling $5,900,920. The story is the same at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which has a $1.2 billion dollar budget.
At DCFS, Black businesses do $377,867 in business while White women owned businesses do approximately 10 times that amount with $4,129,479 in business. DCFS has a $1.2 Billion dollar budget.
No where is the irony more of Black business opportunities in the state of Illinois more obvious than in the agency titled Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), which as a $3.3 billion budget. Black businesses have a total of 8 contracts totaling $89,160, while White women do 16 times that with $1,482,427 in business.
(Photo courtesy of larryslibrary.blogspot.com)
There is plenty of business and economic opportunity in Illinois, just apparently not for Black businesses.