- Patricia Neuray
Is Racial Inequity a Myth?
Even with hate crimes increasing, there are still people that deny the fact that racial inequality exists. After all, slavery ended over 150 years ago, the Civil Rights Movement was 50 years ago. So, how could inequities still exist after all this time? BCT Partners explores some of the many racial disparities that still persist despite what some people want to believe.
The gap between white and black family incomes has not narrowed at all since the 1960s. In 1968, the median African American earned 57% as much as the median white American, and in 2016 the ratio was 56%. Some of this is due to the fact that as more African Americans moved into the middle class, the gap between rich and poor has increased demonstrably. In today’s dollars, the net worth of the richest member of the Forbes 400 has soared from $5 billion in 1982 to $160 billion in 2018. In fact, incomes for all middle and lower class Americans have basically been stagnant since the early 1970s. Decades of U.S. income shifts have had the effect of undoing what would have been real progress towards income parity for blacks and whites.
We know that while education does not always predict income, there is a strong correlation between education attainment levels and career opportunities. Therefore, logically we have to assume that if fewer blacks have college degrees, that also leads to disparities in the types of jobs that are available to them. While there is not a huge gap between whites and blacks in terms of high school graduation, the gap widens considerably for higher education. In fact, 21% of whites have a bachelor’s degree and 12% hold advanced degrees compared to 13% of blacks attaining a bachelor’s degree and only 6% having advanced degrees. In addition, analysis shows that students of color in the largest 100 cities in the United States are much more likely to attend schools where most of their peers are poor or low-income. This is important because research confirms that the number one predictor of educational attainment (or lack thereof) is based on the extent to which students attend school with other low-income students.
For many families, their wealth is largely derived from home ownership and the equity they accumulate from their home. That is why the lack of home ownership for many black Americans contributes greatly to lower overall wealth. In 2016, 71% of white Americans owned their own home compared to 41% of blacks. Not only do fewer blacks own homes, but they also tend to buy their first home later in life which means they do not have as many years to see the return on their investment. In fact, eighty-seven percent of white homeowners bought their first homes before age 35, compared with only 53 percent of black homeowners. Home ownership for blacks declined substantially after the 2008 recession and those numbers have not rebounded significantly. Home ownership now is the same as it was when the Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago.
In summary, the gaps in opportunity that exist between white and black Americans in 2019 is very real. While some progress has been made, it is not nearly enough. That said, as our country becomes more racially diverse, we will hopefully see those trends reversing. One positive shift that we have seen is the fact that more people of color now hold public office. The 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse Congress in history with 22% of the seats held by minorities. Now public policy which provides equal opportunity for all American citizens needs to follow. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.”
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