Shapiro - The Hidden Cost of Being African-American

Shapiro - The Hidden Cost of Being African-American - t...

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Unformatted text preview: t helpful, but —“V\'ell, what 'antl ”~ aren’t iyou and ab— iful remedy is s. Don’t cross the following: Use and share ties’ issues—~ )rtation, liter— ;tudy working :hnic Studies, iany different ional intellec— yoursclf, take cheaper than tit what your mily, comm— Iity and take bIe—bodiness, and the his— .‘our children the language ir amount of uff isn’t even er remaining n white mid— ) you survive ple spot each 7 7107mm .1 I. Sly/pin) I 3 7 Vl'e need not deny or erase the differences of working—class cultures but can embrace their richness, their variety, their moral and intellectual her— itage. \Ve’i‘e not at the point yet where we can celebrate differences—not having money for a prescription for your child is nothing to celebrate. It’s not time yet to party with the white middle class, because we’d be the entertain— ment (“Aren’t they quaint? just love their workboots and uniforms and the way they cussl"). We need to overcome divisions among working people, not by ignoring the multiple oppressions many of us encounter, or by oppressing each other, but by becoming committed allies on all issues which affect working people: racism, sexism, classism, etc. An injury to one is an injury to all. Don’t play by ruling—class rules, hoping that maybe you can live on Connecticut Avenue instead ofBaltic, or that you as an individual can make it to Park Place and Boardwalk. Tired of Monopoly? Always ending up on iVlediterranean Avenue? 1 low about changing the game? THE HIDDEN COST OF BEING AFRICAN AMERICAN Thomas M. Shapiro linet Frank and Suzanne Conway during the late—afternoon rush hour at a restaurant in Los :\ngeIcs. Recently laid off from a comiiuinications marketing firm and now taking courses to become certified to teach elementary school , Frank arrived after picking up their daughter, Logan, from day care. Suzanne arrived from her job as an operations supervisor for a money management company. The Conways loved their home in the diverse urban neighborhood ofjefferson Park, near the University of Southern California, but were gravely concerned about sending Logan to weak public schools. They talked to me at length over coffee about this c(iiniiiuiiity—schm)l dilemma, their high educa— tional hopes, and their future plans. The Conways’ story and their solution to their dilemma turned out to be more common than anticipated. Because they receive generous help from their families, they are considering moving to a suburban community with highly regarded schools. Home prices there start at four times those where they live now, and Logan would grow up and go to From Thomas M. Shapiro. ZOO-I. The Hidden (lost <4/‘l3ciug :Ifi'imn :IIIm‘iri/n: Hot." I/I/i-iI/rlv P’rprm/ [mar l/lt'r/m/lirv (New York, Oxford University Press). I 25‘ (J/urx and Inequality family wealth makes these school in a far more homogenous community decisions logical and desirable for some families. Of course. as with the nearly one in three .-\merican families without financial assets, lnany of the family interviews did not brim over with opti— mistic choices and options but rather turned on how lack of family wealth severely restricts community, housing, and schooling opportunities. Like the (Ionways, :\lice and Bob Bryant work at professional iobs and earn a middle— class income, but they do not have access to family wealthfthey are asset— poor. Living in the working—class Dorchcster section of Boston, they are frustrated about their inability to afford to move to a neighborhood with better schools. Doing the best they can, they are highly aware that their son, .\lathew, attends only “halfway decent schools” and is not getting the “best ed— ucation.” The Bryants’ hopes for Mathew are no different from the (Ionways' for Logan. \Vhat is different is their capacity to follow through on their hopes and deliver opportunities. 'l‘hc Conway's are white and the Bryants are black. Because their incomes, professional status, and educations are nearly identical, conventional wisdom suggests that race should be at most a minor factor in ope portunities available to these two families, but we will see tangible connections between family assets and race. Differing family asset capacity, which has more to do with race than with merits or accomplishments, most likely will translate into different worlds for Mathew and Logan. Demonstrating the unique and diverse social circumstances that blacks and whites face is the best way to understand racial differences in wealth hold— ing. 'l‘he ideas I develop. . . also push the sociology of w ealth in another imA portant direction, namely, an exploration of how the uses of wealth perpetu— ate incquality. 'l‘ogether, wealth accumulation and utilization highlight the ways in which the opportunity structure contributes to massive racial wealth inequality that worsens racial inequality. My argument is grounded in three big ideas. liirst, I argue that family inheritance and continuing racial discrimination in crucial areas like home— ownership are reversin< gains earned in schools and on iobs and making 'J’ racial inequality worse. liamily inheritance is more encompassing than money passed at death, because for young adults it often includes paying for college, substantial down—payment assistance in buying a first home. and other continuing parental financial assistance. Consequently, it is virtually impossible for people of color to earn their way to equal wealth through wages. No matter how much blacks earn, they cannot preserve their occupm tional status for their children; they cannot outearn the wealth gap. Many believe that African Americans do not do as well as whites, other minorities. or immigrants because they spend too much money rather than save and mi vest in the future. 'l‘hey are unable to defer gratification, do not sacrifice for the future, and consume excessively. \‘Ve will see how the facts speak other— wise. Second, these inheritances frequently amount to what I call transfor— mative assets. 'l‘his involves the capacity of unearned, inherited wealth to lift a family economicall iobs, and earnings wt starting lines, establi acct)mplishments, ant ilics use head—start as: tures that reward the the homes they buy, 1 their children attend. while disadvantaging ical mechanisms of (lt l lomeownership explore homeownersl‘ a nation of homeown historic high. Homeo accumulate wealth. H nicest communities, argument, quality edt transformative assets; contemporary discrir residential segregatioi appreciation, all of wl appears critical to sut does in school to bet creased domestic viol most tangible ways tl generation and proie< can a fford to buy hor gap brings us back fu 'l‘hese big ideas facing America as wt frozen out of the ma century, but since 1 against racial iniustio favor ofa more tolert dox: \\'hy is racial in. To fully appreeia Bryants face. \\ e need vast increase in inequ has increased during at the top of the incr fact, the slice of the nearly twice as large: as the share ofthe bt liberal critic Barbara 'ealth makes these n families without im over with opti~ k of family wealth )rtunities. Like the and earn a middle— h~they are asset— f Boston, they are vorhood with better ire that their son, etting the “best ed— from the (Ionways’ nigh on their hopes iBryants are black. ire nearly identical, minor factor in op— ngilile connections ty, which has tnore likely will translate ;tanccs that blacks :es in wealth hold— lth in another im» )f wealth pct'pcttl' :ion highlight the ssive racial wealth argue that family areas like home— jobs and making :ompassing than eludes paying for first home, and ily, it is virtually wealth through we their occupa— zalth gap. Alany ither minorities, han save and in~ not sacrifice for cts speak other— ’l call transfor— ed wealth to lift '/ Van/mm A l. Slut/urn I I ‘1 a family economically and socially beyond where their own achievements, iolis, and earnings would place them. 'l‘hese head—start assets set up different starting lines, establish different rules for success, fix different rewards for accomplishments, and ultimately perpetuate inequality. ’l‘hird, the way fam» ilies use head—start assets to transform their own lives~within current struc—- tures that reward them for doing so—~has racial and class consequences for the homes they buy, the communities they live in, and the quality ofschools their children attend. The same set of processes typically advantages whites while disadvantaging African Americans. My family interviews point to crit— ical mechanisms oftlenial that insulate whites from privilege. Homeownership is one of the bedrocks of the American Dream, and l explore homeownership as a prime way ofdelving into these big ideas. \\ie are a nation of homeowners. In 2002 the homeownership rate was (>8 percent, a historic high. [lomeownership is by far the single most important way families accumulate wealth. l'lomeownership also is the way families gain access to the nicest communities, the best public services. and. most important for my argument, quality education. l lomeownership is the most critical pathway for transformative assets; hence examining homeownership also keeps our eyes on contemporary discrimination in mortgage markets, the cost of home loans, residential segregation, and the way families accumulate wealth through home appreciation, all of which systematically disadvantage blacks. llomeownership appears critical to success in other areas of life as well, from how well a child does in school to better marital stability to positive civic participation to de— creased domestic violence.1 I low young families acquire homes is one of the most tangible ways that the historical legacy of race plays out in the present generation and proiects well into future. Understanding how young families can afford to buy homes and how this contributes greatly to the racial wealth gap brings us back full circle to the importance of family legacies. 'l‘hese big ideas help us understand one of the most important issues facing America as we start the twenty—first century. African \ntericans were frozen out of the mainstream of American life over the first half of the last century, but since 1954 the civil rights movement has won many battles against racial iniustice, and America has reached a hroad national consensus in favor ofa more tolerant, more inclusive society, Yet we live with a great para— dos: \l'hy is racial inequality increasing in this new era? To fully appreciate the decisions American families like the (Ionways and Bryants face, w e need to understand the extent, causes, and consequences ofthc vast increase in inequality that has taken place since the early l‘)7(ls. Inequality has increased during both Democratic and Republican administrations. ’l‘hose at the top of the income distribution have increased their share the most. In fact, the slice of the income pie received by the top l percent of families is nearly twice as large as it was 30 years ago, and their share now is about as large as the share of the bottom 40 percent. This is not news. In Nickel/111d Dru/ml. liberal critic Barbara l‘ihrenreich tells her story of working at low~skill iobs in I 3/) (Jr/yr 11ml 1 11¢'////,/I/1'If)r America’s booming service sector, jobs like waitressing, cleaning houses, and retail sales. These are the fastest—growing jobs in America, and they highlight our current work—to—welfare reform strategy. IChrenreich’s experiences illus— trate how hard it is to get by in America on poverty wages. More than anything else, perhaps, Ehrenreich’s personal experiences demonstrate that in today’s America more than hard work is necessary for economic success. l talked to many families who live these lives for real, and we will see how rising inequaL ity makes assets even more critical for success. In Him/r17 (I/H/ I)t’///0r/‘rlty. conservative strategist Kevin Phillips argues that current laissez—faire policies are pretenses to further enrich wealthy and powerful families. Rather than philosophical principles, conservative policies of tax cuts for the wealthy, gutting the inheritance tax, and less business reg~ ulation favor wealth and property at the expense ofmiddle—class success. The Bush administration’s gradual phase—out ofthe estate tax privileges unearned, inherited wealth over opportunity, hard work, and accomplishment. Presi— dent Bush’s 2003 tax stimulus package carved 39 percent of the benefits for the wealthiest 1 percent. l will broaden the discussion of rising inequality by bringing family wealth back into the picture. Phillips concludes his book with a dire warning: “Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime~ plutocracy by some other name." An ideology that equated personal gain with benefits to society accompa— nied the great economic boom of the last part ofthe twentieth century. Even though inequality increased in the past 20 years, despite loud words and little action, policies such as affordable housing and equitable school funding that challenged that mindset simply had no chance ofgetting offthe ground. Iron— ically, historically low unemployment rates went hand—in—hand with rising inequality in an America where hard work no longer means economic success. Success includes harder work, less family time, and probably more stress. The average middle-income, two—parent falnily now works the equivalent of 16 more weeks than it did in 1979 due to longer hours, second jobs, and working spouses} The years of economic stagnation subsequent to the boom pro— duced a dramatic increase in the number of working poor, and working homeless families are a growing concern.3 Since late 3001, in a period marked by a declining stock market and rising unemployment, an abundance of data has provided strong evidence that lower—income households are under severe economic stress: Personal bankruptcies, automobile repossessions, mortgage foreclosures, and other indicators ofbad debt all reached records in 2002.4 \Vhat is the role of wealth and inheritance in rising inequality? The baby boom generation, which grew up during a long period ofeconomic prosper— ity right after \Vorld \/\’ar [1, is in the midst of benefiting from the greatest inheritance of wealth in history. One reliable source estimates that parents will bequeath $9 trillion to their adult children between 1990 and 2030.g (iiven this fact, it is no wonder that an already ineffective estate tax (due to tax planning, fan worth more tl ing the seconr the Bush adm This weal mists Robert . study in [993 few.“ Accordin baby boomers, resenting an ar final slice, divi about $40,000 fuels inequality the profound e \\"'e can argue f we can take a st THE CONTE \Vriting at the l emphaticallyde color line. \Vri Americans had i tion, income, he made progress, 1 nied by wide g Du Bois was p6 (four/(r. the Nol [liner/am Bile/117} conditions for A' ing to many for 1 United States. T equal opportunit a nation’s concer fortunate notion century‘s end, at trust regarding r from completed, forces coniprom racial inequality, Du Bois and discrimination at the L'nited State: _‘ cleaning houses, and "a, and they highlight h’s experiences illus— .Alore than anything strate that in today’s c success. I talked to 3 how rising inequal— .evin Phillips argues r enrich wealthy and conservative policies m1 less business reg— le—class success. The privileges unearned, omplishment. Presi— tt ofthe benefits for frising inequality by eludes his book with :ith politics brought lemocratic regimefi to society accompa— tttieth century. lecn loud words and little school funding that )ffthe grotmd. Iron— in—hand with rising is economic success. bly more stress. The be equivalent of 16 1d jobs, and working t to the boom pro— poor, and working , in a period marked it abundance of data tlds are under severe issessions, mortgage records in 3002.4 tequality? The baby "economie prosper— .g from the greatest :imates that parents in 1090 and 2030.5 estate tax (due to tax ’l [Wilt/x .1]. Slim/um l 9 I planning, family trusts, and loopholes), which takes 50 percent of estates worth lnore than $1 million, came under such ferocious political attack dur— ing the second Clinton administration and has been effectively repealed by the Bush administration. This wealth inheritance will exacerbate already rising inequality. Econo— mists Robert Avery and Michael Rendall presented a benchmark statistical study in 1993 showing that iuost inherited wealth will be pocketed by only a few.“ According to the study, one—third ofthe money will go to 1 percent ofthe baby boomers, who will receive about $1.6 million apiece. Another third, rcp~ resenting an average bequest of $336,000, will go to the next ‘) percent. 'l‘he final slice, divided by the remaining ()0 percent of the generation, will run about $40,000 apiece. \Ne will see how this baby boomer inheritance not only fuels inequality but also intensifies racial inequality. Few people now talk about the profound effects—~economie, social, and political—of that widening gap. c We can argue for the privilege of passing along more unearned inequality, or we can take a stand for fairness and equality. THE CONTEXT OF RACIAL INEQUALITY Writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, historian \MEII. Du Bois emphatically declared that the problem ofthe century was the problem ofthe color line. \A'riting again at midcentury, Du Bois reviewed what African Americans had accomplished in education, civil rights, voting rights, occupa— tion, income, housing, literature and arts, and science. African Americans had made progress, he noted, although it was unequal, incomplete, and accompa— nied by wide gaps and temporary retreats. At about the same time that Du Bois was penning his assessment in a black newspaper, the Pfifa‘blll‘g‘b Cal/rm; the Nobel economist (lunnar Myrdal published the widely read x111 Ail/win!” DUN/mm. This influential and lengthy study documented the living conditions for African Americans during the first halfof the century, reveal— ing to many for the first time the impact of systematic discrimination in the United States. 'l‘hese two giants helped to define racial inequality in terms of equal opportunity and discrimination and to place these issues at the heart of a nation’s concern. 'l‘he twisted, politically narrow, and bureaucratically un— fortunate notion of “affirmative action” substituted for equal opportunity by century’s end, and affirmative action continues to frame our hopes and dis! trust regarding race. liven though the struggle for equal opportunity is far from completed, the single—minded and narrow focus on affirmative action forces compromises with our past, obscures our present understanding of racial inequality, and restricts policy in the future. Du Bois and Alyrdal correctly identified a color line of opportunity and discrimination at the core of the twentieth—century racial equality agenda in the United States. 'l‘he agenda in the twenty—first century must go further to 1 2‘3 (fl/ix.» i/m/ I/lt‘f/l/1///I\’ include the challenge of closing the wealth gap. which currently is 10 cents on the dollan if we are to make real progress toward racial equality and democ— racy. Understanding the racial wealth gap is the key to understanding how racial inequality is passed along from generation to generation. The enigma of racial inequality is still a festering public and private con— versation in American society. .\fter the country’s dismantling of the most oppressive racist policies and practices of its past. many have come to believe that the Linited States has moved beyond race and that our most pressing racial concerns should center now on race—neutrality and color—blindness. Proclaim— ing the success ofthe civil rights agenda and the dawning of a postracial age in America, books by Shelby Steele,...
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