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“A Growing Inequality”: Not All Kinds Of Inequality Are Created Equal

In America, not all kinds of inequality are created equal.

For the past half-century, the de jure inequality of demographic groups has proven increasingly vulnerable to public pressure. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, legal barriers against racial and sexual minorities as well as women have crumbled. Changes in the law have followed the same pattern: First, a handful of generally radical activists brought attention to the existence of a legal double standard; then, a mass movement grew in support of eliminating discriminatory laws and practices; only after this did government respond with legal remedies.

In each case as well, the movements’ success in diminishing their “otherness” — that is, establishing their full humanity — in the eyes of the majority of their fellow Americans has been key to ending legal discrimination. The shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage, for instance, follows decades when growing numbers of gay men and lesbians felt just secure enough to out themselves to their families, friends and co-workers, in the process normalizing what had been a concealed, and presumably shameful, status. The immigrant rights movement’s focus on the Dream Act kids — young people, many of whom are talented students, brought here as children and still forced to lurk in the shadows — put the most appealing human face on undocumented immigrants. That is at least partly responsible for what is now majority public support for enabling the undocumented to become citizens. (Whether that majority support carries any weight with xenophobic House Republicans, secure in their gerrymandered districts, is another question.)

Some forms of legal inequality persist in other guises. Another Supreme Court decision last week, striking down provisions of the Voting Rights Act that limited discriminatory practices in particular Southern states, will make it easier for black and Latino electoral participation to be limited. Just as those states once required voters to pass absurd tests or pay taxes to vote — measures almost always designed to apply only to blacks — now they will likely require voters to produce documents that the poor and students disproportionately lack (as, in fact, Texas did within hours of the high court’s ruling). Today’s vote supressionists are driven less by discrimination for its own sake than fear that their hold on power will weaken if minorities and the young vote in large numbers.

But while social and legal inequality has diminished over the past century, economic inequality has been on the rise since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The public policies of the past 30 years — deregulating finance and encouraging the sector’s growth, failing to bolster workers’ declining bargaining power — are rightly understood to have reversed the more egalitarian economic policies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. But the economic inegalitarianism of the past three decades also makes a mockery of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of equality, which went beyond mere equality of creation. Jefferson believed that a nation of yeoman farmers was the best defense against the inequalities of wealth and power that would threaten the republic if cities grew too populous. He also believed, of course, in the institution of slavery — the paradox that haunts his legacy and our history to this day.

The belief that diminishing economic inequality would help build a more robust economy underpinned the legislation of both the New Deal and the Great Society. Granting workers the power to bargain with their employers, the preamble to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act states, would increase their capacity to consume and give the economy a shot in the arm. So, too, the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the national minimum wage. Social Security and Medicare, by reducing poverty among seniors, also bolstered the national economy. Repeal any one of these and the economy would crumple. Indeed, the de facto repeal of the National Labor Relations Act — as employers have learned to exploit its loopholes and deny employees bargaining power — is a major factor in the decline of wage income.

How, then, do we decrease economic inequality — the one kind of inequality that continues to expand even as other forms contract (if slowly and unevenly)? The challenge isn’t to persuade the majority to embrace a minority but, rather, to embrace itself. Americans tend to blame themselves rather than changes in economic rules and arrangements for failing to achieve financial security. But with most of the nation falling behind, the problem and the solution aren’t individual. Like Jefferson’s generation, Americans must band together to create a more egalitarian land.

 

By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 2, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Please Proceed SCOTUS”: Affirmative Action Has Helped White Women More Than Anyone Else

In the coming days, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in a potentially landmark case on the constitutionality of affirmative action. The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of Abigail Fisher, a woman who claims that she was denied admission to the University of Texas because she is white. But study after study shows that affirmative action helps white women as much or even more than it helps men and women of color. Ironically, Fisher is exactly the kind of person affirmative action helps the most in America today.

Originally, women weren’t even included in legislation attempting to level the playing field in education and employment. The first affirmative-action measure in America was an executive order signed by President Kennedy in 1961 requiring that federal contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” In 1967, President Johnson amended this, and a subsequent measure included sex, recognizing that women also faced many discriminatory barriers and hurdles to equal opportunity. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only included sex in the list of prohibited forms of discrimination because conservative opponents of the legislation hoped that including it would sway moderate members of Congress to withdraw their support for the bill. Still, in a nation where white women and black people were once considered property — not allowed to own property themselves and not allowed to vote — it was clear to all those who were seeking fairness and opportunity that both groups faced monumental obstacles.

While people of color, individually and as groups, have been helped by affirmative action in the subsequent years, data and studies suggest women — white women in particular — have benefited disproportionately. According to one study, in 1995, 6 million women, the majority of whom were white, had jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise held but for affirmative action.

Another study shows that women made greater gains in employment at companies that do business with the federal government, which are therefore subject to federal affirmative-action requirements, than in other companies — with female employment rising 15.2% at federal contractors but only 2.2% elsewhere. And the women working for federal-contractor companies also held higher positions and were paid better.

Even in the private sector, the advancements of white women eclipse those of people of color. After IBM established its own affirmative-action program, the numbers of women in management positions more than tripled in less than 10 years. Data from subsequent years show that the number of executives of color at IBM also grew, but not nearly at the same rate.

The successes of white women make a case not for abandoning affirmative action but for continuing it. As the numbers in the Senate and the Fortune 500 show, women still face barriers to equal participation in leadership roles. Of course, the case for continuing affirmative action for people of color is even greater. The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households. Researchers found that the same résumé for the same job application will get twice as many callbacks for interviews if the name on the résumé is Greg instead of Jamal. School districts spend more on predominantly white schools than predominantly black schools. The fact that black workers earn, on average, 35% less than white workers in the same job isn’t erased by the election of an African-American President — one who, by the way, openly praises the role of affirmative action in his life and accomplishments.

As for Fisher, there is ample evidence that she just wasn’t qualified to get into the University of Texas. After all, her grades weren’t that great, and the year she applied for the university, admissions there were actually more competitive than Harvard’s. In its court filings, the university has pointed out that even if Fisher received a point for race, she still wouldn’t have met the threshold for admissions. Yes, it is true that in the same year, the University of Texas made exceptions and admitted some students with lower grades and test scores than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.

By: Sally Kohn, Time, June 17, 2013

June 22, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rand Paul’s Twisted Mind”: Protecting Individual Rights Is Not Stalinist

This week Republicans in the Senate once again blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would take further steps to guarantee access to the legal system for women who charge they’ve been paid less than men for doing the same job. (That’s illegal, in case anyone was thinking of trying it.) Justifying his vote against the act, Rand Paul compared it to Soviet communism. This is sort of a dog bites man story; on a given day, Rand Paul probably compares several dozen things to Soviet communism. But here, for what it’s worth, is why he thinks legislation to make it easier for women to sue when they’ve been paid less than men for doing the same job is just like Soviet communism:

“Three hundred million people get to vote everyday on what you should be paid or what the price of goods are,” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. “In the Soviet Union, the Politburo decided the price of bread, and they either had no bread or too much bread. So setting prices or wages by the government is always a bad idea.”

Mr. Paul does not appear to understand either the law which he has just voted against, or the class of economic transaction about which he is speaking. If a woman sues because she has been paid less than a man for doing the same work, and a judge rules in her favour, that is not an instance of “setting prices or wages by the government”. The wage in question was set by the employer. What the judge has ruled is that the employer cannot offer different wages to different employees based on their sex. Why might such a hypothetical judge make such a ruling? Because, as noted above, offering different wages to different employees based on their sex is against the law, and has been so since 1963.

I. What Are the Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination?

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
2. the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;

But should it be illegal to offer different pay for the same work based on an employee’s sex? Maybe not. Mr Paul’s argument here implies he thinks it should be okay. So, let’s try a thought experiment. How would you react to seeing a job advertisement that read: “Associate lawyer in patent firm, 3 years’ experience required, salary $100k for man, $77k for woman”? Is that okay? If not, why not? How about this: “Associate lawyer in patent firm, 3 years’ experience required, salary $100k for Christian, $70k for Jew”? How about “Salary $100k for white, $65k for negro”?

The Paycheck Fairness Act, like the Lily Ledbetter Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, is not an instance of government price setting. It is an instance of government prohibition of certain forms of exploitative price discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to pay a woman less than a man for the same work just as it is illegal for a shop owner to charge a Jew more than a Christian for the same loaf of bread. There have been places in the world where at various times shop owners were allowed to charge Jews more based on their religion, to pay untouchables less based on their caste, and so forth.

Those places were not freer than America. Indeed, one place where employers were free to discriminate against women and Jews, and did so avidly, was the Soviet Union. One of the key differences between the Soviet Union and America is that in America, we have an independent judiciary to which individuals can turn for enforcement of their legal rights when someone is screwing them over because they are of the wrong race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.

In America, you have rights, and what makes those rights non-meaningless is that you can use the legal system to defend them. Mr Paul’s ideological system has performed the ingenious trick of twisting his head around 180 degrees, such that he views the fact that Americans have legally enforceable rights not to be discriminated against as a form of communism.

 

By: M. S., The Economist, June 6, 2012

June 7, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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