Commentary: U.S. racial disparities continue to get worse

The Kansas City StarMarch 9, 2012 

Because of this country's racist past, the future for people of color, and the United States overall, doesn't look too promising.

That was the conclusion of a United for a Fair Economy report. Consider that in 1980, the U.S. population was 80 percent white.

By 2010, the white portion had dropped to 65 percent. The Census Bureau now projects that by 2042, the United States will become a majority-minority nation, eight years sooner than once predicted.

The challenge is America’s history of discrimination has created an enduring legacy of economic oppression for people of color.

There simply won’t be a broad enough of a base of high-wage, taxpaying young people of color to maintain the United States as a superpower.

The continuing racial disparity will be too great to ignore, the report warns. “The country runs the risk of becoming disturbingly similar to apartheid-era South Africa, with a minority of relatively well-to-do whites barricaded in gated communities, using the full force of the law to protect their wealth to the exclusion of others.

“Tolerating the continued economic marginalization of blacks and Latinos will drag down the entire economy and shred the very social fabric of our nation as people of color make up a larger and larger share of the population.”

Racial disparities here are older than the republic. They’ve been maintained to advance whites over minorities in income, wealth, education, employment and health while holding a disproportionate share of people of color in poverty and incarceration, the report said. Here are just a few findings from the “State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority” report:

• Black and Latino median family income was 57 cents for every dollar of white median family income in 2010. The Great Recession and the continuing economic slump have hit minority families hardest. By 2042, blacks are to make 61 cents and Latinos 45 cents for every dollar whites make in median family income.

• In wealth, the net worth in 2007 was 20 cents for black families and 27 cents for Hispanic families for every dollar of average net worth of white families. By 2042, black families are to have just 19 cents and Hispanics 25 cents on average for each dollar of white net worth.

• On college, African Americans and Latinos trailed whites in the likelihood of having a higher-education degree in 2010 and 2042.

• On poverty, blacks and Latinos were more than 2½ times as likely to live in poverty as whites. By 2042, the black poverty rate will be 1.9 times higher than whites’; Hispanics, 2.6 times higher.

• Blacks were 6.1 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites; Latinos, 2.5 times. The disparity will remain about the same in 2042.

Our children will inherit this bleak future. The report is right to recommend more funding for education; ending the disastrous war on drugs, which led to the explosion of people behind bars; eliminating the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy; passing a constitutional amendment to limit money’s influence on politics; and ending voter photo identification and other laws that disproportionately disenfranchise people of color in this country.

The report urges wider recognition that “race still matters in America.”

“It will continue to matter economically until the persistent and outrageous racial economic disparities are eliminated,” the report notes. “Race must stay at the forefront of our thoughts as we develop public policies at the national, state and local level. To not do so runs the risk of perpetuating racial economic inequalities, and in some cases, it will make things worse.”

Putting race in the forefront may be the hardest of all.

For the last 40 years, conservatives have consistently dismissed racism as a key cause of the disparities.

Look where it has gotten us.

Changing the bleak future must start with telling the truth.

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