Last week, America celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the event that ended government sanctioned segregation. Although the government no longer explicitly endorses it, the spectre of segregation still lingers in America today in the form of economic segregation.
A report in the Washington Post last week caught my attention, but not for what it said. Titled The economy’s troubling double standard for black men, I was intrigued that someone actually took the time to study our society and saw that the old saying that “Blacks have to work twice as hard to compete” isn’t just some old wives’ tale.
A black man with an associates degree has the same chances — about 88 percent– of finding a job as a white high school graduate, according to a recent analysis of employment rates and education for whites and minorities by Young Invincibles, a nonprofit group focusing on the economic issues impacting millennials. Getting a bachelor’s degree ups those chances to 93 percent for a black man, the same as a white man who dropped out of college. “In a lot of ways that proves the saying that black people need to work twice as hard to compete in this country as white people,” says Tom Allison, policy and research manager for Young Invincibles and author of the report.
In the year 2013, we were basically told that racism is over by the Supreme Court. We don’t need the full protection of the Voting Rights Act anymore as we are living in a post-racial America now. Nevermind the fact that a spate of voter laws followed that decision in an attempt to help Republicans keep their grips on power. Schools were legally desegregated long ago, although the school systems of today can resemble those of yesteryear. Even the violence in Chicago, a favorite whipping post for some ideologues, doesn’t leave the perimeter of the neighborhoods where many people are locked in economically.
As the chart at the top partially shows, Black unemployment has consistently been twice the national average for as long as it’s been measured. Changing segregation laws didn’t change the segregationist mindset. When Blacks are less likely to get hired, what other avenues do they have to resort to in order to survive here? Less earning power means less money to be able to fully integrate into American society. As a result, this country today still economically resembles America circa 1950.
The black middle class, measured by the number of families earning at least $100,000 a year, has grown fivefold in the past 50 years. Now, about one in 10 black households is in that income category. The percentage of blacks older than 25 with high school diplomas has more than tripled. The number of blacks who are college graduates has grown by a factor of 10. Overall, blacks’ buying power is estimated to be nearing $1 trillion, while an increasing number of African Americans serve as company chief executives.
Yet, racial economic disparities are mostly unchanged and in some cases are growing. In 1963, blacks families earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by whites. In 2011, blacks earned 66 cents for every dollar earned by whites. The black unemployment rate averaged 11.6 percent between 1963 and 2012, more than double the white jobless rate over that time.
When you have to be twice as good to earn two-thirds as much, it’s hard to claim that we’re a completely integrated society. Some people will make claims about education and work ethic, but look at how politicians have been steadily dismantling the public education system in favor of trying to bolster private schools. Who get’s left behind in that scenario? The lower-income people, which ultimately affects all races and not just Blacks. There are the exceptions like Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, and Robert Johnson, but people fail to forget that there was once a “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1900s that was full of successful and wealthy Black Americans.
Nobody’s asking for freebies or giveaways. What people want is an honest and fair shot at making it on their own. Before passing judgment on someone because of where they live or what they do, consider the circumstances they’re in. They may not have any other choice beyond their current situation because of the ingrained economic philosophy that has driven America since its inception. A while back, Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote a thought-provoking column in the Atlantic, The Case for Reparations. As he eloquently put it, “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”