Race and inequality in the United States

Race and inequality in the United States

In the United States there is inequality between different groups of people. The idea that there is a significant correlation between race and inequality is not a new concept. Some dispute that race is overemphasized, but historical evidence suggests that the unequal treatment of racial minorities in the United States dates as far back to the start of colonization. [Hurst, C. (2006). Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.] In the early days of settlement, Anglo-Saxons encountered a group of people who appeared radically different from them. American Indians were discriminated against because their beliefs and practices seemed “savage.”

“Rather than color or racial distinction, religious and ethnocentric criteria were used initially to separate groups into superior and inferior categories.”ref num|reference1|1

This pattern of discrimination continued with Black-White Relations when early Americans implemented the institution of slavery. Although there were plenty of resources in early America, settlers needed labor power to fully utilize the land. Forced labor was common during this time period, but the prolonged use of Native Americans or indentured White servants seemed impractical. Importing non-White slave labor from Africa became their most viable and attractive option. Slaves were imported and traded for over two centuries in the United States.

Other minority groups have also been discriminated against in the United States. Hispanics, Asian Americans, and people of Middle Eastern descent have also been subject to racial discrimination, stereotype, and unequal treatment. Asian Americans are unlike other minorities in that they are considered to be a model minority because they have succeeded in education, upward mobility, income, and in avoiding the criminal justice system despite being discriminated against. [Wong, P., Lai, C.F., Nagasawa, R., & Lin, T. (1998). Asian Americans as a Model Minority: Self-Perceptions and Perceptions by Other Racial Groups. Sociological Perspectives, 41(1), 95-118.] In any case, patterns of discrimination against minority groups have resulted in a society with significant racial inequality. These disparities exist in many forms and institutions, including:

*Income and wealth
*Education
*Health
*The criminal justice system

Income and wealth

Income refers to a flow of resources over time and represents the value of labor in the “contemporary labor market and the value of social assistance and pensions.” [Oliver, M. L., & Shapiro, T. M. (1997). Black wealth/white wealth: A new perspective on racial equality. New York: Routledge.] It is a valuable gauge of economic inequality. The income of racial minorities has increased with the reduction of racial discrimination in the labor market. As a result, the hourly wage gap between minorities and Whites has narrowed. While this suggests that the various races are competing in a somewhat level playing field, it is challenged when wealth is taken into account.

“Income is what the average American family used to reproduce daily existence in the form of shelter, food, clothing, and other necessities. In contrast, wealth is a storehouse of resources, it’s what families own and use to reproduce income.” ref num|reference7|7

Dating to the inception of slavery, governmental policies prohibited blacks from beginning businesses. Federal Housing Authorities made it difficult for African-Americans to obtain loans and mortgages. While racial and ethnic minorities were legally denied opportunities to accumulate wealth for future generations, most whites did not encounter these same obstacles. Perpetuations of these practices for centuries attest to the wide wealth inequalities among Whites and minorities.

“Because home ownership plays such a large role in wealth portfolios of American families, it is a prime source of the differences between Black and White net worth. Home ownership rates for Blacks are 20 percent lower than rates for Whites; hence, Blacks possess less of this important source of equity.” ref num|reference7|7

In “The Hidden Cost of Being African American,” Thomas Shapiro uses the concept of transformative assets to explain racial inequality in wealth. Transformative assets are inherited wealth from previous generations that lift families beyond their own achievements. Inheritance is important right now because the generation that benefited from the post-World War II economic boom is now at the age when they are passing off their wealth to their children. In his research, Shapiro finds that these assets help white people more than they help African Americans. White people have more wealth and head-start assets than African Americans do. This, according to Shapiro, is the crucial cause of the disparity between African Americans and whites with regards to wealth because inheritance is the key determinant in what kind of life families can enjoy. A disparity in wealth between African Americans and whites exists even when there are similarities in economic achievements such as income, level of education completed, and job quality. There is also a wealth gap between blacks and whites of similar incomes, similar levels of education, and similar job quality. In all comparisons, black families have less wealth than white families. [Shapiro, T.M. (2004). The Hidden Cost of Being African American. Oxford: Oxford University Press]

Housing is a very important component of personal wealth. In the United States, home equity makes up 44% of people’s net worth. According to Shapiro, “Wealth built up in one’s home is by far the most important financial reserve for middle-class families.” African Americans are at a disadvantage because they are unable to get the same quality housing as whites are. While explicit segregation does not occur anymore, it is still more difficult for African Americans to purchase a good quality home. ref num|reference4|4

There are several factors that explain why this imbalance in transformative assets has led to racial inequality between African Americans and whites. First, whites have less debt when they are ready to settle down because they are more likely to have gotten assistance from their parents for their college expenses. Second, it is common for banks to grant lower-interest rates on mortgages for those who can put a higher down payment on a home. Many white families rely on transformative assets to make these down payments. African Americans, on the other hand, generally do not have the same access to these assets and rely on their own savings instead. Therefore it is harder for African Americans to make a higher deposit on a home, thus making it more difficult to obtain a low-interest mortgage. Third, communities that have higher percentages of African Americans are more likely to suffer from a loss of property value because of the perception among white people that African Americans drive down property values. Banks practice “redlining” and choose which areas are good investments, which disadvantages African Americans because primarily black communities are considered to be bad investments. Because of this perception, white flight occurs when there is an influx of African Americans into a community, thus creating a system of de facto segregation. This segregation is maintained by the perception from whites that an influx of African Americans would lower property values and increase crime. ref num|reference4|4

A huge implication of this segregation of communities that results from inequality is wealth is inequality in education. Housing discrimination and the effects of transformative assets limit educational progress. Communities with better home values receive more funding for schools. This results in better quality schools in primarily white suburban communities, while primarily African American and Hispanic communities in the inner-cities do not receive adequate funding or government attention. ref num|reference4|4

Aiding to the ever growing gap between white and black Americans is their weekly earnings. In 1981, black males averaged a weekly income that was approximately 20% below that of white males. [ Osberg, Lars. Economic Inequality In the United States. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1984 ] Furthermore, not only do black males not get paid the same as white males, they are also more likely to experience unemployment. In 1980, black males on average were over 60% more likely to endure unemployment than whites. Also, their time in unemployment is 30% longer than that of white males. These statistical numbers are also not expected to change any time soon. Research showed that from the years 1948 to 1974, the racial income gap was closing at an annual rate of 0.4%. [Osberg, Lars. Economic Inequality In the United States. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1984. This insufficient increase equates racial income equality in the year of 2070 ]

Many studies have shown that earnings do not increase with job experience for black males as they do for white males. These studies have also shown that black males get hired for jobs that have little promotional benefits. On the other hand, white male accept jobs with training requirements to receive promotions and pay raises. In brief, white males receive jobs with promotional incentives and blacks simply do not. [Osberg, Lars. Economic Inequality In the United States. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1984. This insufficient increase equates racial income equality in the year of 2070 ]

These statistical findings illustrate the ever still large discriminatory state the United States is in. Black males on average still receive 40% lower wages a week than that of whites, even if they have the same schooling and job experience. In 1960, white males made $700 more than blacks if both had less than elementary level education. Furthermore, blacks were paid on average $1400 less than whites if both had a high school diploma. These stats rise even higher if both receive a college degree; whites were paid $3800 more than blacks. [ Wright, Erik (1978) Race, Class, and Income Inequality. [Electronic Version] . The University of Chicago, 1368-1373 ]

Furthermore, in today’s society, minorities are labeled before they are even known. Distinct groups such as black males and Hispanics are branded in a condescending fashion before they open their mouth. Race is socially constructed and because of this minorities do not receive the same opportunities to succeed in society that their white counterparts do. [ Schaefer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007 ] This unfair disadvantage proves to be the unyielding force driving the growing gap between whites and minorities.

Education

The educational gap used to be much worse than it is today, but it is still a huge subject of concern among communities and policy-makers.

There is a significant trend of inequality in educational achievement across different races. According to the U.S. Department of Education, "The social class, race, and ethnic achievement gap widened since 1988, despite continued educational policies aimed at reducing them." [US Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics (2000). The Condition of Education: National Assessment of Educational Progress. Office of the Under Secretary and Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Washington, DC.] Asian Americans and whites have more success in education than African Americans and Hispanics. One possible explanation for racial inequality in education is that educational achievement is correlated with socioeconomic status, and many inner-city school districts have high proportions of African-American and Hispanic students. [Sadovnik, A.R. (2007). Urban Education. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.]

Asian American students have the highest educational achievement in the country. One study found that Asian Americans perceived themselves as "more prepared, motivated, and more likely to have higher career success than whites." The study also found that whites, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics had the same perceptions of Asian Americans. ref num|reference2|2

One of the most consistent research findings on racial inequality is that black men receive considerably lower income returns to education than do white males. A breakthrough study of U.S. men in the early 1960s concluded that black males generally begin in a lower starting position and enter a vicious cycle of being hindered at every step of the attainment process rather than move forward with ease. Their disadvantages are cumulative. They are less likely to obtain a higher education, and this is coupled with the fact that when they do, their occupational returns are less than those received by whites. Furthermore, the extended gap is also caused by the strong correlation between income inequality and mortality rates in African Americans. ref num|reference1|1 [Weiss, R. (1970). The effect of education on the earnings of blacks and whites. Review of Economics and Statistics, 52, 150-159.] [Blau, P.M., & Duncan, O. D. (1967). The American Occupational Structure. New York: John Wiley & Sons.]

The large inequality gap of blacks and whites could be directly related to education. In New York, New York some school districts are polar opposites when compared. The poverty stricken regions of New York have public schools that are on average 90% Black and Hispanic and 10% Asian, White, and Middle Eastern. [ Gallagher, Charles A. Rethinking the Color Line. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007 ] These underprivileged public schools have to content themselves with whatever personnel is left available, once the best trained have been hired by the more affluent schools. Physical installations and didactic equipment also tend to be lacking. [ Gallagher, Charles A. Rethinking the Color Line. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007 ]

These differences find repercussions as the children grow older: the underprivileged do not have opportunities to learn the social skills needed to perform adequately in socially higher milieus and, in addition to general below grade-level performances, this condemns them to subordinate, low wage jobs. From this, a vicious cycle that equates to their children living the same lifestyle that they endured might ensue, along with a feeling of alienation and discontentment.

Although there are prominent blacks like Colin Powell, Bill Cosby, Bryant Gumbel, and Michael Jordan who are living comfortable lives, the whole black population is not as lucky. “It appears that school integration peaked in 1967 and declined ever since.” [ Henslin, James M. Down to Earth Sociology. New York: Free Press, 2007 ]

Health

Life expectancy is a common measurement of one's health, and is commonly used to gauge the quality of life in a group of people. A health study in 1999 looked at life expectancies from Whites, Blacks, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics. For both men and women, Asian Americans were found to have the highest life expectancy at 59.13 more years for men aged 20 and 64.31 more years for women aged 20. For men, Native Americans and Whites aged 20 had the next highest life expectancy to live 54.73 and 54.59 more years, respectively. They were followed by Hispanics, who had a life expectancy of 48.97 more years after age 20. Finally, Black men had the lowest life expectancy beyond 20 years of 47.58 more years. Women on the other hand had higher life expectancies in general, but the same trends in racial inequality. Native American women had the second highest life expectancy past age 20 with 63.09 years. White women were expected to live 60.93 more years past age 20, and Hispanic women were expected to live 57.74 more years. Finally, Black women were expected to live 56.56 more years past age 20. [Hayward, M.D. & Heron, M. (1999). Racial Inequality in Active Life among Adult Americans. Demography, 36(1), 77-91.]

Though life expectancy is a good indicator of quality of life, it does not usually separate active and inactive life expectancy. In the 1999 health study, researchers looked at anticipated inactive and active life expectancy to see if there was a relationship between living a longer life and living a more active life. The study found that Native Americans and Blacks were expected to spend more of their lifetime inactive because of disabilities or chronic health impairments. Asian Americans, on the other hand, lived longer and had a smaller estimate of inactive life expectancy. Thus Asian Americans are more able to live a longer, more active life while Native Americans spend more of their longer life in an inactive condition. Blacks were found to be the most disadvantaged, living both a shorter life but also a larger portion of it inactive. ref num|reference9|9

The Criminal Justice System

Max Weber, a prominent sociologist, explained life chances as “the typical chances for a supply of goods, external living conditions, and personal life experiences.” [Weber, M. (1946.) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. (H. Gerth & C.W. Mills, Trans.). New York: Oxford University Press.] Race, in combination with class and gender largely determine a person’s quality of life and access, or lack of which, to the benefits offered in society. Some examples include infant mortality, obesity, chances of holding political office, and lifetime earnings. One of the more salient areas of life is the criminal justice system, and among other factors, an individual’s experiences are largely shaped by their race. [Rothman, R. A. (2005). Inequality and Stratification: Race, Class, and Gender. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.] Recent methodologically sophisticated studies that investigated the relationship between race/ethnicity and sentence severity discovered that

“race and ethnicity do play an important role in contemporary sentencing decisions. Black and Hispanic offenders—and particularly those who are young, male, or unemployed—are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison; in some jurisdictions, they also receive longer sentences…than do similarly situated white offenders.” [Spohn, C. (2000). Thirty Years of Sentencing Reform: The Quest for a Racially Neutral Sentencing Process. National Institute of Justice Journal, 3, 427-428.]

Likewise, racial profiling exists when certain people are targeted for heightened law enforcement scrutiny based on their race. ref num|reference3|3 Research confirms that blacks are more likely to be stopped in traffic by the police, and black women are nine times more likely to be x-rayed or subjected to intrusive searches by customs officers in airports. [Norris, C., Fielding, N., Kemp, C., & Fielding, J. (1992). Black and Blue: An analysis of the influence of race on being stopped by the police. British Journal of Sociology, 43, 207-218.] [GAO (General Accounting Office). (2000) Better Targeting of Airline Passengers for Personal Searches Could Produce Better Results. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.]

Stereotypes and Discrimination

Perceived racial stereotypes and the discrimination that results are inevitable because one cannot disguise one's physical appearances. This makes racial inequality especially difficult to combat. Racial and ethnic minorities are subjected to all sorts of derogatory terms. Language, which can be an integral instrument for empowerment, is also equally potent in perpetuating hate and negative images about different groups.

Stereotypes of Black women as single mothers, lacking education, and being unreliable for work paint a negative picture for employers. This puts Black women at a disadvantage. [Kennelly, I. (1999). That Single-Mother Element’: How White Employers Typify Black Women. Gender & Society, 13,168-92.] Stereotypes often result from a lack of personal familiarity or interaction with people from other racial and ethnic groups. The media also tends to reinforce negative stereotypes of African-Americans and non-whites. African-Americans are seen as lazy, slow, and subservient. American Indians are viewed as savage and hostile. [Marger, M. (1997). Race and Ethnic Relations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.]

Other forms of race-related phenomena that some privileged Whites in society take for granted, and that some non-White individuals cannot take for granted include:

*Freely choosing a place that they want and can afford to live in
*Going shopping, feeling secure that he or she will not be harassed or followed
*Seeing others of the same race prevalently displayed in the media
*Relying on skin color for protection from being seen as financially unreliable
*Considering options in life without worrying about whether race would be a limiting factor [McIntosh, P. (1988). White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Center for Research on Women Working Paper No. 189. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College.]

See also

*Household income in the United States
*Affirmative Action in the United States
*Race of the future
*Racial equality proposal
*Racism
*Economic inequality
*Microinequity
*Latinos in the United States

References

External links

* [http://www.jstor.org/view/00029246/ap060230/06a00130/0 JSTOR] (login required)
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