GL: Why do you think the demographic changes haven’t been reflected in the local government?
JS: There are myriad reasons for that, as some people are starting to catch on to.
Number one, there’s really a situation where the eligible electorate among black people is lower, because fewer of them are 18 or older.
Number two, there’s lower socioeconomic status among black people in Ferguson. When there’s lower education levels and socioeconomic status, there’s a lower likelihood of turnout.
Number three, layered on that, there’s municipal elections in the spring. Presidential elections in November have the heaviest turnout among low-income people. I’m not going to say it’s by design, but it’s probably not an accident that in St. Louis County municipal elections are held in March and April, when people in lower socioeconomic classes are least likely to turn out.
Finally, there’s a marginalization from economic power in local government. There’s waste management contracts, sewer contracts, all the types of municipal public works contracts that traditionally white people in charge have awarded to their allies. That strengthens the firms and labor unions that then, in a sort of cycle, continue strengthening the white power structure and make it harder for African Americans to penetrate the system — this mutually reinforcing connection. After all, if black people have less disposable income, they’re probably not going to be able to fund a really effective campaign.
So there are all these factors, and then there’s a really struggling education system. Many of the adults in Ferguson today went to city schools, which were unaccredited for many years. A lot of the north county district schools are also unaccredited or bordering on losing their state accreditation. When there’s that type of education system, there’s a ton of dropouts. In some of these education systems, half the kids drop out. When lots of young males drop out of high school and have no municipal job opportunities, they’re highly unlikely to be engaged, and they don’t have as much investment in their communities.