How Structural Inequality Makes America A Land Of White Economic Supremacy


Annie-Rose Strasser reminds us that August 28 will be the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic march on Washington. Much of what was true then is true still.

Unemployment rates for black workers are atrociously high, and consistently higher than those of whites. Their rate has remained over 10 percent for most of the last half century. And while it averaged 8.6 percent right before the recession, it has again remained well above 10 percent since the 2008 crash. In fact, it just reached its lowest rate, at 12.6 percent, of the last five years.

Black wages are lower than those of other racial and ethnic groups. The 2010 census found that black Americans earn an average of $32,068 a year compared to whites' $54,620, and they also earn less than Hispanics and Asians. Black household income has been on the decline -- from 2000 to 2010, it fell by 14.6 percent.

And while black workers make up 42 percent of minimum wage workers, they are just 32 percent of the workforce. Meanwhile, the minimum isn't anything close to the wages that the March on Washington demanded. Accounting for inflation, the $2 wages King and his fellow organizers demanded would now be $15.26 an hour. Our country's current minimum wage, however, is $7.25.

Black Americans also just can't get hired. Though the country has supposedly implemented the fair employment practices that the March on Washington protesters demanded, in reality, employers often hire friends and acquaintances who tend to be the same race as them, reinforcing segregated office places. Systemic poverty and police force bias have also led to massive incarceration of black men, leading to one out of every eight with a felony charge. It's incredibly difficult in America to be hired as a felon. Yet perversely, employers on the whole prefer to hire white felons over black men with no criminal record.

There's no "bootstraps" argument needed here. The racial injustice isn't thanks to any lack of effort on the part of its victims. Rather, structural inequality and a system that favors those who already have wealth -- namely, white people -- are to blame. Thanks to a structure that provides better education for the children of wealthy people, even the highest-scoring low-income children are much less likely to graduate college than the lowest-scoring wealthy kids. Dr. King's dream of a desegregated America isn't a reality in the classroom; schools are split along economic lines that are racial lines as well, keeping them largely still segregated.

On top of that, black Americans aren't getting the representation that would give them a voice to fight for their economic needs in government. Thanks to voter suppression efforts, it's becoming increasingly difficult for low-income minorities to vote. Add to that gerrymandering districts, which can effectively segregate races and give white people more power, and it's easy to see how the system remains intact.

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