"Through cutting-edge, rigorous research and analysis, RACE COUNTS will rank all 58 counties by these issue areas and provide a roadmap of how we can unwind generations of racial oppression.My package was marked delivered today, however I was at home all day. It was marked left beside door, however I have an enclosed courtyard, and there are no packages there."It was established by The Advancement Project, which calls itself
"a next generation, multiracial civil rights organization working on systems change. The staff in the California offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento work to expand opportunities in our educational systems, create healthy built environments and communities, develop the connective tissue of an inclusive democracy, and shift public investments towards equity."The website is smartly laid out, and provides handy tools to examine data on economic opportunity,
health care access, education, housing, democracy, crime and justice and healthy built environments. Information is broken down by ethnic group, population and county.
For instance, a chart filtered by poverty shows Fresno as having the highest levels of income disparity and lowest performance (overall prosperity, including income, graduation rates, etc.). In a population of around 100k, nearly 30% of people live in poverty. Clicking on the Fresno link takes you to a county overview. Some key facts:
- It is 50% hispanic and 30% white.
- Highest employment levels are among Latinos.
- Highest graduation rate is Pacific Islander at 97%, lowest is black, at 72%.
- Whites on average had $30k income left over after housing costs, Latinos had only $23k
- Other figures broken down by race included included: truancy arrests, curfew arrests, incarceration, food access, proximity to hazard
So, most of it is what you'd expect, with Black and HIspanic minorities generally bringing up the bottom of the disparity gap. Some surprises, however. White kids are actually arrested for truancy at rate more than doubling Black and Hispanic kids. However, while curfew arrest rates are roughly equal for Blacks and Hispanics, rates for Hispanic kids are more than two thirds lower.
All well and good, but two things stood out to me. First, the rates across ethnicities aren't broken down by SES. For instance, how would high-SES blacks compare with high-SES whites? My guess is we'd still see disparities, but they would be vastly smaller. When you have a good paying job, a stable family, an education, and live in a nice neighborhood, things are kind of going well by definition.
So this presents a problem. Emphasizing disparity by race is important in understanding historical context of racism, legacy of Jim Crow, immigration, redlining, etc. It makes a profound case for the present disparities being unfair and immoral. It thus demands action as a moral imperative.
However, the danger in racial analysis is that, by emphasizing racial disparity, an easy narrative can form that racism is the problem. That is, if we simply ended racism, things would all get better and we would have equality. If teachers treated kids fairly, if employers looked past race, if lenders gave out loans without regard to skin color, these disparities would somehow end.
But this misses a crucial element of how we have chosen to structure our society: the setting of wages in free market capitalism. You can treat people as fair as you want, but we will still have millions of low-skill occupations that need to be filled. In a free-market system, these jobs will pay poverty wages. If you look at pay scales historically for jobs in which repetitive, relatively simple and manually intensive labor is required - picking, scrubbing, folding, stacking, carrying, checking - you will find wages at the very bottom of the pay scale. The people who will take these jobs will be the most desperate, those with the least available options - the least education, the most difficult childhoods, the most mental and physical health issues, the most unfortunate family crises, etc. And when you require someone like this to spend 40 hours a week performing difficult, exhausting and depressing labor, and then only pay them a poverty wage, you create a perfect recipe for intergenerational poverty.
To make matters worse, in a system of free-market housing, they can only afford to live in the cheapest homes. Voila! Ghettos are born. Apartment complexes, trailer parks, housing developments filled to capacity with poverty and struggle.
But why stop there? Tie basic government services to a neighborhood income tax base, and things like roads, postal offices and libraries are barely funded.
What about the children? Public schools in these neighborhoods will be filled with children who come from homes with vastly fewer resources. Lower education, higher stress, more dysfunction, and likely generations of disadvantage. Even the best teacher will struggle to make up for the cognitive, and emotional needs of their pupils. Federal programs like Title I try to make up for these disadvantages in small ways, like providing free and reduced lunches, counseling or maybe social workers to try and support the families. But they are for the most part band-aids that, while crucial and greatly needed, only serve to stem some of the bleeding.
Schools try to innovate, but results are messy, and what appear to be effective interventions are often fleeting as success often requires a lot of luck and everything to be just right (above average leadership and staff, above average culture, above average... something). But by definition, above average is not scaleable.
Charter schools have proven to be a mixed bag - well intentioned, but more often than not merely representing a selection bias, attracting only the most motivated families: by definition the very families in these communities whose children are going to be the most prepared. One feels for their plight - who doesn't want the best for their child, and every family deserves a good school for their child. But if the reason your school is not "good" is that it is populated by poor kids, and you live in a poor neighborhood, requesting a selective school is helping certain families but not solving the larger issue.
Which, again, is poverty. Even in the best scenario - the one you hear again and again from those interested in "education reform", is that all these kids go to college. Great. But we still have millions of jobs that pay poverty wages. This is the great neo-liberal paradox: you spend/organize the perfect government intervention to get everyone an education and great jobs, yet millions of low-skill, low wage jobs remain.
And OK, education is hard, not everyone is cut out for college. Maybe the answer is trade school. A plumber, carpenter or electrician can make a solid middle class wage. But you still haven't dealt with the problem.
What if we really used our imaginations and somehow schools were able to get all kids graduated and into trade schools or college? So there then becomes this massive glut of highly educated/trained workers who can't find work. Yet there still exist millions of low-skill, low wage jobs. Are they going to all demand higher wages because of their fancy degrees and certifications? The maid, the fieldworker, the cashier is still going to be competing for a job, and will need to work... or starve. Degrees are poor leverage when everyone has one, jobs are scarce, and there's a line of willing workers lined up behind you.
The sad reality is that unless we find a way to raise pay for the massive numbers of low-skill jobs that our society demands, we are going to have massive numbers of people living in poverty, necessarily in poor neighborhoods, with their kids going to poor schools.
All you have to do is sprinkle a touch of historical racism and marginalization into the mix and racial disparity is guaranteed.
The Race Counts website has a list of current campaigns it is working on, including:
- Incarceration and racial profiling
- Investment in poor neighborhoods
- Affordable housing
- Better schools
- Taxing corporations
These are all great ideas. But notice anything missing? How are any of them going to help raise wages for low-skill occupations?
Your guess is as good as mine.