Iowa Department of Human Rights - Status of African Americans in Iowa

iowa department of human rights

June 5, 2020

Status of African Americans in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Human Rights stands with Black Iowans to challenge and eliminate bigotry, racism, and injustice in the State of Iowa. In order to fulfill our mission to lift all Iowans, we must bring equitable opportunities to every Black Iowan. 

We mourn the loss of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Every human deserves to be treated with dignity, and they were not.  In honor of their lives and in memory of every person whose life has been cut short by injustice, we steel ourselves in unity with Iowans to deliver justice.  We must seize the passion and understanding of this moment to drive real and lasting change.  

All change requires knowing where we are now and how we got here.  Examining the status of African Americans in Iowa is a good place to start.

Black Iowans serve their community and country, attend churches, mentor others toward accomplishment and build businesses that empower employees to achieve success.  Educational attainment among Black students in Iowa is improving, and assistance to navigate post-secondary educational opportunities is making a real difference.  African immigrants and refugees enhance our understanding of the world and contribute knowledge, culture and growth within our state.  We see people who are resilient, community-focused and strong; we also see a community that is experiencing disparities in many of the ways we measure success:

  • Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for Black Iowans was higher than the rest of the state.  In comparison to a state-wide unemployment rate of about 2%, Black Iowans experienced unemployment in excess of 9%.  Black Iowans are more likely to be employed in the delivery of services such as agri-processing, manufacturing and direct service in the healthcare industry.  24.2% of African Americans in Iowa are working in this type of service occupation.  (Sources: Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa State Data Center)
  • Black Iowans are more likely to be incarcerated.  African Americans make up about 4% of the state's total population, but represent 25% of Iowa’s prison population. While the population of African American juveniles is 6% of our state's total juvenile population, we also see that 32% of the youth with juvenile justice system contact are African American (FY2019).  (Sources: Iowa Department of Corrections and Iowa Department of Human Rights Justice Data Warehouse)
  • Black Iowans are more likely to live in poverty.  The poverty rate in 2018 for African American Iowans was 30.7%; for Iowa it was 11.2%.  The median household income for African Americans was $31,992; the median household income for the state was $59,955.  (Source: Iowa State Data Center)
  • Black Iowans suffer higher levels of chronic health conditions at a younger age, including high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.  African Americans are more likely to die at early ages from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.  7.2% of African-Americans do not have health insurance, compared with 4.7% for the state. (Sources: Centers for Disease Control and US Census Bureau)

The Iowa Department of Human Rights is steadfast in delivering on our mission to eliminate inequities in our state:

  • by providing status reports about this and other under-represented populations,
  • through effective advocacy by assisting other government agencies and community organizations to positively affect issues impacting Black Iowans, and
  • by leading Iowans in having the crucial conversations necessary to understand and change the trajectory of opportunity for African Americans in Iowa.

Iowa's rich history of leadership in civil rights provides a firm platform from which to build a more equitable and just future. We will continue in our work for and with Iowans to resolve the issues that create barriers to success and to build a state where all share in opportunities that fuels a more dynamic, inclusive and productive Iowa.