Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where we are now 50 years later--The March on Washington

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington that took place last Wednesday highlighted significant areas of progress, while also drawing attention to the advancements that still need to be made. Although there are many reasons to celebrate, including equal access to public accommodations, laws against racial discrimination and employment and African American voting rights as a result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hard economic goals of the march that were critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans have not entirely been achieved.
In fact, there are growing economic divides, and despite the important protections established through the law, discrimination has taken new forms. Fifty years after the march, and 45 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, major banks still discriminate on the basis of race through predatory practices and lending activities. For example, an investigation into the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, found that the bank charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Another concern related to housing can be seen when you look at the population in homeless shelters. African Americans make up 40 percent of the population living in homeless shelters, while comprising of only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
The inequality extends to other areas of financial security – including other types of assets and income. In the last 30 years, there has been no significant progress in closing the gap between the income of African Americans or Hispanics and white Americans. In 2011, the median income for African American families was $40,495, just 58 percent of the median income of white families. By 2009, the median wealth of white families was 20 times that of African American families. The Great Recession also had a disproportionate impact on African Americans—the median wealth among African American households dropped by 53 percent between 2005 and 2009, and the poverty rate increased to 27.6 percent by 2011, 3 times the poverty rate for white households that year at 9.8 percent. About 65 percent of African-American children live in low-income families—45 percent of which live in communities with concentrated poverty, as opposed to 12 percent for white children. Living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty can significantly impact the lives of children and their families.  Concentrated poverty is closely linked with many social and economic challenges, including behavioral problems in young children, higher crime rates, and environmental hazards that impact health.
Discrimination is also still prevalent in the job market. Research shows that applicants with “African American sounding” names get 50 percent fewer calls for interviews, and are twice as likely to be unemployed. In 2012, the African American unemployment rate was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, and even higher than the national unemployment rate during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 (13.1 percent). 
Despite being the land of opportunity, many young children growing up in America are dependent on their parents’ income and education to determine the probability of their success into adulthood. Unfortunately, discrimination and lack of education and job opportunity is often persistent from one generation to the next, which limits the opportunities for improving future outcomes. The good news is – there are ways for public policy to begin to address the inequities that still exist. In keeping with the progress that has already been made, improving equitable access to decent housing, maintaining high-quality, integrated education, creating opportunities for equitable early childhood initiatives and creating a federal jobs program for full employment are all policy options aimed at advancing equity. To read the report on The Unfinished March by the Economic Policy Institute, click here

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