The New Segregation
Fifty-four years ago, Ruby Bridges aged 6, marched into a white New Orleans Elementary school, flanked by US Marshals. Recently she returned to that school to assist in unveiling a monument to her courageous 6 year old former self. Yet, although the school, whose teachers resigned and whose students stayed home when she first entered it, today has erected a statue in her honor, her assessment of race relations in the US is very gloomy. Schools are progressively more segregated, she points out, often reflecting sharp segregation in housing.
The racial situation has changed in the last 50 years. But the condition of the majority of Blacks in the U.S. has not improved. As I wrote in an earlier blog, many black students attend schools with a seriously inadequate curriculum—there are no classes in Algebra II or Chemistry. In many of these schools up to 60% of the teachers are not officially licensed, and a large percentage of teachers are inexperienced because they are in their first years of teaching.
But today's segregation of blacks in urban ghettos with failing schools does not only have to do with skin color but with economics: Twice as many African-Americans and Hispanics are poor compared to Whites. Of Whites about 12% of the population are poor; the rate of poverty for African-Americans and Hispanics is double that.
Poverty is self-perpetuating across the generations. Whites used to ascribe that to a mythical “culture” of poverty, of generations of welfare recipients who hand down from one generation to the next an inclination to be passive, lazy, content to live on the dole.
But that was only a myth that blamed the victims. We now know how poverty persists in the real world. Careful studies show how white and black children enter first grade equally ready to learn mathematical skills. But the poor children soon fall behind. Their lives are too hard; often even their nutrition is inadequate. Their performance in school suffers. If they finish school at all, few of them are ready to go on to college. They will be as poor as their parents.
Their poverty accounts at least in part for their social isolation. White families choose schools for their children with fewer children of color. But white families also choose schools for their children with fewer children who are poor. The resegregation of housing and education seems to be significantly affected by black and Hispanic poverty. What was previously the result of racism is today, in part, a response to serious economic inequality.
Segregation is becoming an economic issue.
Of course, that was always true in some way. Old-fashioned racism was designed to hide the shame of slavery. But segregation today responds to very different economic facts. Foremost among those is the inability of our capitalist economic system to create enough jobs. A close second is the inability of this economic system to create jobs that pay a living wage.
The official unemployment rate in the entire country stands at 6.5. That is not counting the people who have become discouraged after failing to find a job, often for more than a year, and who have stopped looking. That rate is almost twice the official unemployment rate at 12.5. The economy cannot create jobs for a significant percentage of the population.
More than 5% of the labor force work more than one job. One job by itself simply does not pay enough to support a family. Only 35% of part-time workers who wanted more hours managed to get full time work. The remainder are forced to work less than they would like.
The result is massive poverty. Figures differ but about 15% percent of households in the US live in poverty as defined by the US government. Given centuries of racism in the US, a disproportionate number of the poor are African-American or Hispanic, Native American or Native Alaskan.
Poverty brings with it housing and educational segregation.
We are being told, daily, that our economic system allows everyone to make something of their life, while, in reality, the economic system is actually to blame for much of this poverty. It has failed 15% of us massively and more and more of us to a lesser degree. Instead of creating jobs, capitalism in the US first outsourced jobs elsewhere. Today that is no longer sufficient. So capitalists now have a new project, namely to replace human workers by robots. (The workforce in China is said to have already been reduced by 15% due to robots replacing human workers.) The system that creates unimaginable riches for some, creates massive misery for one in seven households in the “richest country in the world.”
Is it time for a change?