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August 27, 2014, 7:07 pm

Racial equity still elusive

The statistics show that African Americans continue to lag behind whites in every possible category.

In good times and bad, nothing seems to have changed for African Americans, which leaves one to ask, are the problems that African Americans face internal, external or self-made since the Civil Rights era of the 1950s, 60s and 70s?

“We must also admit that there is ethical erosion that tends to not be addressed by Blacks,” said Professor of Race Relations Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn. “Racism is not overt for me and the industry of racism can be seen within the public spaces of educational apartheid, the prison industrial complex, and economic oppression that continues to produce unemployment and underemployment to a rate in which Blacks continue to be the face in the bottom of a capitalistic well.”

As the booming economy of the 1990s drew to a close, Black poverty rates dropped to a record low of 23 percent. Black unemployment fell to a record low of 7.2 percent in September of 1999.

Even at its historic low of 7.2 percent, Black unemployment still was twice the unemployment level for whites. These numbers did not take into account the nearly one million Black men locked up in prison and jail, which, by some estimates would increase the overall unemployment level by two percentage points.

Moreover, since 2001, when the economy officially went into recession, official Black unemployment has drifted between 10 and 11 percent. An added result of the recession is that the drop in Black poverty rates, a result of the economic expansion of the 1990s, has been reversed and Black poverty is again on the rise. According to the Census Bureau, 24 percent of Blacks now live in poverty — up from 22 percent in 2001. Additionally, there was a 3 percent decrease in the Black median income.

"African Americans tend to be the last to be hired when the economy is booming. That means that they also tend to be the first to lose their jobs when a downturn hits," according to Stephanie Armour writing in USA Today in December 2002. She goes on to say: "job losses have been deep in manufacturing and construction, they have also hit retailers. Jobs in those industries tend to be disproportionately held by African Americans."

In July 2003, the New York Times reported that unemployment among Blacks is rising at a faster pace than in any similar period since the mid-1970s.

Two recent studies show, on a base level, the racist obstacles African American applicants face. The University of Chicago found that job applicants with "Black sounding" names — such as LaKisha or Jamal — were twice as likely not to be called back for an interview as applicants with "white sounding" names. Another study found that even white applicants with prison records were called back more frequently about jobs than African Americans with no prison record at all.

Unemployment today for young Black men aged 16 to 19 tops out at more than 30 percent; double that of young white men in the same age category.

A study recently conducted by Cornell University found that "nine out of 10 Black Americans, or 91 percent, who reach the age of 75 spend at least one of their adult years in poverty," compared to 52 percent of whites. The study goes on to say: "that by age 28, the Black population will have reached the cumulative level of lifetime poverty that the white population arrives at by age 75."

Access to health care is a major problem for African Americans. Twenty-three percent of African Americans have no health coverage at all. Poverty and a lack of health insurance mean that Blacks die on average six years younger than the rest of the population. And Black infant mortality rates are more than twice that for white babies. The same deadly mix has helped to produce an AIDS epidemic among African Americans. Today, Black women — only slightly more than 6 percent of the population — make up 68 percent of all new AIDS cases for women, and 63 percent of all new pediatric AIDS cases are of Black children. And the toll the criminal justice system has had on the lives of African Americans has been well documented.

Currently, while there are 603,000 Blacks enrolled in institutions of higher education, there are 757,000 who are locked up in federal and state prisons. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics projects that 30 percent of Black boys who turn 12 this year will spend time in jail in their lifetime, if current incarceration rates stay constant.

Even those vestiges of racism that were supposed to have been wiped out by the civil rights struggle of the 1960s — namely segregation — have reappeared in America’s public school systems. Ironically though, the five most segregated cities in the U.S. today are in the North: Detroit, Milwaukee, New York City, Newark and Chicago.

The day before the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January 2003, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University released a study showing that American schools are re-segregating. According to researchers at Harvard University, "The South went from being the most segregated region in the country to being the most integrated. ... Now the reverse is happening." But the study went on to point out that although re-segregation in the South was happening most rapidly, schools in the Northeast and on the West Coast are still more segregated. In fact, according to the study, the country’s most segregated schools are in New York City. This trend in schools was precipitated by court decisions weakening desegregation orders from the 1960s.

All of these numbers are underscored by the fact that, when it comes to making the laws that have an impact on the lives of African Americans, there is a woeful lack of representation. In the history of the U.S. Senate there have only been four Black senators.

This picture of racial injustice in the U.S. points to the systemic nature of racism. The degree of racial disparity and inequality are not just the result of ignorance or a lack of tolerance. The greatest proof of this is not just the conditions that exist today, but the deterioration of conditions for African Americans in the aftermath of the social justice struggles of the 1960s, which points to the institutionalization of racism.

The social movements of the 1960s pressured the U.S. government to devote more resources into fighting poverty and creating opportunities for African Americans’ access to higher education, and, as a result, Black poverty decreased. The Americans for Democratic Action explains in detail:

In 1960, before the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, there were 39.9 million poor persons in the nation. During the mid-1960s the president and Congress adopted a series of programs directly geared to helping those caught in poverty. Those programs (plus a strong economy) succeeded in reducing the poverty ranks by 15.8 million — a reduction of 40 percent — to 24.1 million. As a result, the poverty rate (the percentage of poor in the total population) dropped dramatically from 22.2 percent to 12.1 percent.

If racism was caused just by ignorance and prejudice, then economic disparity between races should have ended in the 1960s. The civil rights and Black power struggles exposed racist injustice, the administration of Lyndon Johnson reacted and implemented the "war on poverty," and that should have been the end of the story. Instead, the disparity never disappeared, and began to grow again shortly thereafter.

According to The Washington Post, by the mid-1970s young college educated Blacks were earning the same amount as their white counterparts. There was no racial disparity.

Income growth of college-educated African Americans, after surging in the 1960s and into the mid-1970s, slowed nearly to a halt, while incomes of similarly well-educated whites increased substantially. The result, economists said, has been a widening earnings gap between the best and the brightest Blacks and whites, a fact of economic life in the 1990s that stands in stark contradiction to many popular assumptions about Black success. The survey reflected these disparities in relative Black and white earnings over the past 20 years. Nearly half — 45 percent — of all Black college graduates interviewed said their income had not kept up with the cost of living over the past five years. In contrast, 29 percent of all college-educated whites said their income hadn’t kept pace with inflation.

By the 21st century the economic gap, as measured by median income, has returned to the same level as at the end of the sixties. The economic advances of the civil rights and Black power movements have been virtually erased.

“Negative stereotypes for minorities continue to play a role in how they are perceived and treated in this society,” said Marla Baskerville, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Northeastern University. “The research is clear that even for those that have been fortunate enough to gain access to strong career opportunities still experience significant discrimination in the form of lower pay, exclusion from networks and over all difficulties for advancement. From those people of color in the poorest communities with the least access to opportunity to those who have fortunately gained some level of success, all are still experiencing discrimination that in the aggregate leads to the large and disproportionate set of outcomes for people of color.”


Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at