Posted on May 14, 2018

Segregation Is Alive and Well in America’s So-Called Land of Opportunity — Just Ask Black and Latino Children


While the unemployment rate for African Americans is going down, it has remained almost twice that of whites over the last five decades years; and this does not include those who have given up on the prospect of employment, as is the case within impoverished communities. Further, one in four African Americans suffer in poverty as opposed to one in ten white Americans. Clearly, there remains a searing inequality in this so-called land of opportunity.

But while proposals like [Bernie] Sanders’ are a good step, truly stamping out inequality will require a holistic approach that looks at all the different factors that contribute to the problem. Two of the biggest are housing and educational disparities. According to Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, less than half of black and Hispanic families live in owner-occupied housing as of 2014. For white families, that figure is 71 percent. {snip}


Overall child poverty and public school segregation have actually increased since the Kerner Commission. Deep poverty — which refers to people living at less than half the official poverty threshold — has increased. Income and wealth inequality has increased.

None of this has to be. But to move forward, we need to base our policy decisions on evidence, not ideology.

Supply-side economics has failed, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has chronicled. One good example of this is the way deregulation led to the Great Recession in 2007-2008. Who was most hurt by this? Minorities and the poor. By the same token, national supply side “welfare reform” in the 1990s, which was promoted as a way to decrease poverty, resulted in a 50 percent increase in extremely poor households with children from 1996 to 2011 and in 700,000 more children living in poverty.

What has been shown to work is job training linked to job placement and direct job creation. Examples of this are YouthBuild and Job Corps (an original Great Society initiative), which provided living wage jobs to high school drop-outs, former inmates and the unemployed.


But, again, there will be no end to school segregation if we do not also work on the problem of housing segregation. Residential segregation creates school segregation, by race and class. And such residential segregation is systemic. According to the Brookings Institute: “More than half of black or white residents in 70 of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas would need to move to a different census tract in order to integrate the metro.”

Thus, the federal government needs to comprehensively enforce, for essentially the first time, the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The potential for such enforcement was at least maintained by the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Urban Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, which preserved the rights of plaintiffs to challenge government or private-sector policies that have a discriminatory effect, without having to show evidence of intentional discrimination.

As with education, the federal government needs to take the lead here. Enforcing the Fair Housing Act and making sure that state and local governments actually pursue racial and economic integration will help poor whites as well as poor minorities. Low-income whites make up more than a third of the poor families that receive federal housing assistance. They also will benefit from broader access to housing in healthier communities and consequent access to better schools and improved job opportunities.

One excellent model is Montgomery County, Maryland, which requires developers to set aside units for low-income families. Through residential integration, disadvantaged students were able to access better schools and the math achievement gap between the lower income youth and their middle class peers was reduced by half between 2001 and 2007, based on a RAND Corporation evaluation. The Montgomery County findings have been reinforced by Harvard University research elsewhere. Children whose families received federal assistance to move to better neighborhoods were more likely to attend college, attend better colleges and earn higher incomes than children whose families had not received the assistance.