“Ferguson, Watts And A Dream Deferred”: Things Have Gone Off Track And Unlikely To Be Reversed In The Foreseeable Future
When rioting broke out in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the summer of 1965, African-Americans didn’t — couldn’t — know it yet, but the next three decades would turn out to be a period of sustained gains in terms of income, jobs, education and the status of blacks relative to whites.
The rioting this past week in Ferguson, Mo., by contrast, follows more than a decade of economic stagnation and worse for many black Americans, a trend that appears unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future.
The week of violence in L.A. began just five days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and 13 months after he had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the impact of which had not yet been felt in the daily lives of African-Americans.
During the decades following this landmark legislation, African-Americans made immense progress. The percentage of blacks over the age 25 with a high school degree more than tripled, going from just under 20 percent, or less than half the white rate, to more than 70 percent, nearly matching the white rate. The percentage of blacks over 25 with a college degree quadrupled from 3 to 12 percent over the same period.
Similarly, black median household income grew, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $22,974 in 1967 to $30,439 in 2000, a 32.5 percent increase, more than double the 14.2 percent increase for whites. Although black household income remained well below white levels in 2000 – 66.3 percent of the white median – it was significantly better than it had been in 1967, when it was 57.1 percent of white median income.
Things went off track, however, as the 21st century approached. The riots in Ferguson follow a period of setback for African-Americans, despite the fact that we have a sitting black president in the White House.
While the economic downturns of the last decade-and-a-half have taken their toll on the median income of all races and ethnic groups, blacks have been the hardest hit. By 2012, black median household income had fallen to 58.4 percent of white income, almost back to where it was in 1967 — 7.9 points below its level in 1999. (This Census Bureau chart shows the long-term income trends for major demographic groups in America.)
Income is a powerful measure of well-being, but equally important is the chance a person has of improving his or her position in life — of whether expectations are rising or falling.
Inequality in America is not news, and there have been a number of studies published recently that challenge the old notion that the United States is the land of opportunity for all, but for African Americans, the findings are particularly bleak.
From 1965 to 2000, the poverty rate among blacks fell from 41.8 percent to 22.5 percent. Since then, it has risen to 27.2 percent. The white poverty rate also rose during this period, but by a more modest 3.2 points.
Blacks suffered more than whites as a result of the 2008-9 financial meltdown and its aftermath, but the negative trends for African-Americans began before then.
A 2007 pre-recession Brookings Institution study by Julia Isaacs, “Economic Mobility of Black and White Families,” found that “a majority of blacks born to middle-income parents grow up to have less income than their parents. Only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle of the income distribution have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children from the same income bracket.”
White children, Isaacs reports, “are more likely to move up the ladder while black children are more likely to fall down.” Thirty-seven percent of white children born to families in the middle quintile of the income distribution move up to the top two quintiles, compared with only 17 percent of black children. Forty-five percent of black children from solidly middle class families “end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared with only 16 percent of white children,” Isaacs found.
A more recent April 2014 study of black and white mobility by Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Chicago Federal Reserve, showed similar results. That report is even more explicitly pessimistic.
The Chicago Fed study found that among black children born between the late 1950s and the early 1980s into families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, half remained there as adults, compared with 26 percent of whites born in the bottom quintile.
Of black children born to families in the top half of the income distribution, 60 percent fell into the bottom half as working age adults, compared with 36 percent of similarly situated whites.
Mazumder concluded that if future generations of white and black Americans continued to experience the same rates of intergenerational mobility, “we should expect to see that blacks on average would not make any relative progress.” He noted that this recent time period stood “in direct contrast to other epochs in which blacks have made steady progress reducing racial differentials.”
One optimistic note is that the white reaction to events in Ferguson, including the commentary of some outspoken white conservatives, has been sympathetic to the anger and outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. This stands in sharp distinction to the aftermath of the violence in Los Angeles in 1965.
Watts – and the string of urban riots in African-American neighborhoods from 1964 to 1968 — was crucial to the expansion of the conservative coalition that dominated most federal elections from 1966 to 2004. Fear of violence helped elect Ronald Reagan governor of California in 1966 and Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968. Law and order, white backlash, the silent majority, and racial integration became core political preoccupations for once loyal Democratic whites as they converted to the Republican Party.
Just two years after the Democratic landslide of 1964, in the 1966 midterm election, Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House. “How long are we going to abdicate law and order favor of a soft social theory that the man who heaves a brick through your window or tosses a firebomb into your car is simply the misunderstood and underprivileged product of a broken home?” Gerald Ford, then the House minority leader, asked, with the answer assumed by the question.
Nearly half a century later, however, conservatives have voiced ambivalent responses to the Ferguson rioting. On Aug. 15, Erick Erickson, a popular conservative blogger at Red State, wrote a widely circulated posting titled “Must We Have a Dead White Kid?”
“Given what happened in Ferguson, the community had every right to be angry,” Erickson wrote. “The police bungled their handling of the matter, became very defensive and behaved more like a paramilitary unit than a police force. Property damage and violence by the citizenry cannot be excused, but is also the result of a community seeing those who are supposed to protect and serve instead suiting up and playing soldier.”
Erickson was by no means alone among conservatives. Sharing his views were Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a prospective Republican presidential candidate, and Charles C. W. Cooke, a National Review columnist, who argued that conservatives should “acknowledge that — even when our understanding of the facts is limited — incidents such as this open old and real wounds.”
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown has produced a rare right-left convergence, a shared recognition that the overwhelmingly white police department of Ferguson has become a hostile occupying force for much of the town’s majority black population.
There is, however, no left-right consensus about how to turn back the grim economic trends for African-Americans, much less what caused them.
Competing explanations for the difficulties that continue to plague African-Americans are a central element in the contemporary polarization between left and right; in fact, they help define it.
Liberals and conservatives disagree vehemently over the role of such factors as the decline of manufacturing jobs, the rise of single parenthood, racial discrimination, the poor quality of public schools, residential segregation, high incarceration rates, test score differentials, parental investment, crime rates, welfare incentives, the lack of engaged fathers – the list goes on.
Democrats in the main are convinced that impediments to black advancement are structural, amenable to government intervention: a strong and better-funded safety net; public investment in manufacturing and infrastructure employment; more rigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
Many Republicans focus instead on what they see as moral collapse and the erosion of such values as hard work and traditional family formation among the poor. Government spending on social programs, according to this view, creates disincentives to work and more trouble.
The urban riots of the second half of the 1960s prompted Washington to pump out money, legislation, judicial decisions and regulatory change to outlaw de jure discrimination, to bring African-Americans to the ballot box, to create jobs and to vastly expand the scope of anti-poverty programs.
Civil unrest also drew attention to the necessity of addressing police brutality.
Today, however, political and policy-making stasis driven by gridlock — despite a momentary concordance between left and right on this particular shooting — insures that we will undertake no comparable initiatives to reverse or even stem the trends that have put black Americans at an increasing disadvantage in relation to whites — a situation that plays no small part in fueling the rage currently on display in Ferguson.
By: Thomas B. Edsall, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, August 19, 2014
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that one man’s act of altruism has attracted national attention. Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University, has given up more than $90,000 of his annual salary in order to boost pay for the lowest-paid workers at the college, some of whom earn as little as the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. His donation will bump their wages to $10.25.
Burse has noted that his sacrifice will hardly leave him impoverished. He is a retired General Electric executive (as well as a former president of the college) with good benefits, as he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. While his job as interim president is “not a hobby, in terms of the people who do the hard work and heavy lifting, they are at the lower pay scale,” he said.
Yet, Burse is not Mitt Romney rich, and he could easily have kept his entire $349,869 annual paycheck without raising an eyebrow among his peers. As acting head of a historically black institution, he’s not in the growing circle of college presidents whose annual compensation tops a million bucks. Still, his act of generosity shines a spotlight on the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, the well-off and the working stiffs, the 1 percent and the rest of us.
The nation’s growing income inequality is one of its biggest challenges, a widening rip in the social fabric. The United States is not held together by a common religion or language or ethnicity, but by its promise of equal opportunity for all. While that’s always been a bit exaggerated, the nation has generally made good on the ideal that those who work hard can at least provide for their families.
But that notion has been less and less true since the 1980s, as globalization and technology starting stealing the factory jobs that paid good wages and gave average workers a toehold in the middle class. Then came the financial meltdown of 2008, which sped the decline. It’s no wonder that 49 percent of Americans, according to a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, think the country is still in a recession.
The Great Recession, though, just put rocket-boosters on a trend evident for decades. The problem is systemic. We’ve managed to create an economy that makes the rich richer while most others struggle to get by. Those with college degrees generally fare better than those with high school diplomas, but there are lots of twenty-something college grads working part-time jobs and living with their parents. They can’t afford to rent an apartment.
The economic climate isn’t the fault of Congress or the president. This globe-shaking dislocation is a mega-trend — the sort of frightening reordering of the universe that shook millions at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that thousands of bank tellers, for example, are slowly being replaced by smart ATMs, but it does signal the disappearance of jobs that paid a decent wage.
Most Americans, however, aren’t buying the mega-trend explanation. They place the blame for their economic decline squarely on the shoulders of their elected leaders. The NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, conducted late last month, found that “seven in 10 adults blamed the malaise more on Washington leaders than on any deeper economic trends,” the Journal said.
That is easy enough to understand. Even if political leaders didn’t instigate a tectonic shift in the economy, they have done next to nothing to ease the dislocations. Indeed, a dysfunctional Republican Party, now comfortable in its role as enabler to the rich, will barely acknowledge the growing income gap.
Democrats, for their part, have recognized the problem but present few long-term solutions. Yes, raising the minimum wage would help, but it’s just a start. The nation needs an overhaul of its educational system, cheaper college costs and a public works program that pays a decent wage.
Burse’s noble sacrifice could help a few workers, but it’s not clear that it will stay in effect after he leaves. Still, his gesture is a step in the right direction. Too few men and women in his position have even noticed the plight of their poorly paid workers.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor, The University of Georgia; The National Memo, August 9, 2014
You’ve got to hand it to Charles Koch: The man doesn’t want for self-confidence. The Kochs and their allies are taking a page from Sen. Rand Paul and trying to dress up their free-market, anti-union, welfare-slashing 21st century feudalism as the answer to persistent African-American unemployment even as the economy recovers under President Obama.
Unbelievably, Koch invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in a stunning USA Today Op-Ed, “How to really turn the economy around,” which is essentially an argument for deregulating business, slashing welfare programs and forcing low-wage work on the poor in the name of the ennobling power of employment.
With laughable Koch paternalism, he shares life lessons from his father, Fred, an oil industry magnate and John Birch Society founder: “When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs,” Koch tells us. “Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.”
Not only does Koch fail to mention that he was the son of a very wealthy man when he worked those “unpleasant jobs,” he cites Dr. King as someone who agrees with him that “there are no dead end jobs.” (The Kochs, by the way, also fund “educational” groups that oppose the minimum wage.)
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
This from a man who himself joined the John Birch Society in the mid-1960s, while it was targeting King as a “communist.”
Koch is right about one thing: King was indeed a great admirer of street sweepers. In fact, he was murdered visiting Memphis to fight for the right of city sanitation workers to join a union. Invoking King on behalf of his low-wage, union-busting, anti-minimum wage agenda is despicable, but Koch apparently thinks his money can buy him anything, including the right to claim King’s legacy.
He’s wrong. King died, by the way, while supporting AFSCME, the union representing the Memphis sanitation workers. AFSCME honored Dr. King by making the painful yet correct decision to end a partnership with the United Negro College Fund after UNCF accepted $25 million from the Kochs to establish a “Koch Scholars” program for black students. UNCF head Dr. Michael Lomax also dignified the annual Koch Summit, which plots its right-wing, free-market strategy, in June, alongside Republican senators and right-wing think tankers.
Along with their UNCF donation, which the Kochs widely publicized, Charles Koch’s Op-Ed represents a new front in their public relations battle. Neither their billions in wealth nor their trademark political stealth have served to insulate them from criticism and scorn. When asked about the Koch brothers, a recent George Washington University poll found that most people surveyed hadn’t heard of them, but 25 percent had negative feelings vs. 13 percent who had positive feelings. That’s bad news for a duo who have tried to keep their political activities undercover.
They apparently believe that funding African-American Koch scholars and invoking Dr. King can convince black voters they’re not the enemy. But quoting King on the dignity of street sweepers while forgetting – or never knowing – that he died while fighting for their right to unionize is at best boneheaded, at worst disrespectful. It won’t convince many Koch doubters.
Charles Koch’s billions can’t buy King’s legacy or King’s blessing for his radical far-right agenda, which opposes everything King stood for. But he probably can afford better ghostwriters.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief, Salon, August 7, 2014
“24 Health-Care Scandals”: Legislators Who Block Medicaid Expansion Are Stiffing Veterans Out Of Health Care, And Stiffing Workers Out Of Jobs
The scandal over long wait times for veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has grabbed a lot of headlines and elicited a lot of righteous anger — as it should. America’s veterans deserve so much better.
But as Ezra Klein pointed out in a piece in Vox, there’s another health care scandal that also deserves its share of righteous anger, and it also has a big impact on veterans with health care needs: the self-destructive refusal of lawmakers in 20-plus states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.
Klein cataloged “24 health-care scandals that critics of the VA should also be furious about” (that is, the 24 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion). Thanks to lawmakers’ knee-jerk opposition to expanding health coverage in those states, there are huge numbers of uninsured veterans who should be eligible for coverage, but aren’t: 41,200 veterans in Florida, 24,900 in Georgia, 48,900 in Texas… and the list goes on.
All in all, about 250,000 uninsured veterans are getting stiffed out of eligibility for health coverage by lawmakers who have blocked Medicaid expansion, according to Pew’s Stateline. As it turns out, those lawmakers are also stiffing their own states out of economy-boosting jobs — health care jobs that are overwhelmingly good-paying jobs. Medicaid expansion would create thousands more of these jobs.
Virginia, where Medicaid expansion still hangs in limbo, is a perfect example. According to a report from Chmura Economics & Analytics, Medicaid expansion would create an average of over 30,000 jobs annually in Virginia, including more than 15,000 jobs in the state’s health care sector. An analysis of data on projected job openings and wage levels underscores that these will be good-paying, economy-boosting jobs.
For a single adult in Virginia, less than half of all projected job openings statewide pay above a living wage ($18.59/hour, according to the 2013 Virginia Job Gap Study). However, three out of five health care job openings and close to nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
For a household with two working adults and two children, while less than two out of five projected job openings in Virginia pay median wages above a living wage ($21.99/hour per worker), half of health care job openings and more than seven out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Or look at Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan passed by the Maine Legislature earlier this year, and too few Republican legislators were willing to break ranks with the Governor to override his veto. There, Medicaid expansion would create over 4,000 jobs by 2016, including more than 2,000 jobs in Maine’s health care sector. As with Virginia, health care jobs beat statewide wage levels in Maine by wide margins.
For a single adult, less than half of all projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($15.18/hour, according to the 2013 Maine Job Gap Study). But two-thirds of health care job openings and almost nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do. For a household with two working adults and two children, while barely one-third of projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($18.87/hour per worker), almost three-fifths of health care job openings and more than four out of five health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Health care jobs are also overwhelmingly higher-wage jobs in states like Montana and Idaho. But all these states, along with 20 others, have been missing out on these economy-boosting jobs because their legislatures or governors have rejected Medicaid expansion.
State lawmakers who continue to block Medicaid expansion do so at their own peril — both morally and electorally. Because you can only stiff your own constituents — including low-income, uninsured veterans — out of both access to health care and good-paying, economy-boosting jobs for so long before it catches up with you.
Want to really do something to help veterans get access to the health care they need and create good-paying jobs for your constituents at the same time? Two words: expand Medicaid.
By: LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director, The Alliance For A Just Society; The Huffington Post Blog, August 6, 2014