African Americans continue to have high levels of poverty compared to European Americans. What are the causes of these problems, and what are some possible remedies for the future? How are African American women faced with even more discrimination than African American men? There’s an old saying that you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from. To explore our options of improving social justice in the future, we must first take a look at our past. There are specific reasons why African Americans continuously maintain high levels of poverty in the United States. These reasons can be linked to discrimination, lack of education, as well as job opportunities. Work force has a huge impact on the racialization of poverty. These reasons will affect the children of our future.
Year after year since the beginning of World War II, real wages and living standards rose continuously for the typical American person working for a living. When, in the middle of the 1960s, the War on Poverty was declared, the poor were
looked at as the people who were left behind. They were not sharing in social contract because they were a racial minority. African Americans were pushed further and further away from the typical white lifestyle. Lack of job opportunities, education, as well as discrimination played a huge role in the economic status of African Americans. Not to mention that if you are an African American female, you face double the discrimination because of your sex and the color of your skin.
The number of black children born into poverty was 43% in 1968.(1) That number was increased to 46% in 1987, and has dropped by one percent since then.(2) Half of the black women in America are heads of households, and half of them live, with their children, in poverty. In 1965 the average poorest quintile of an African American household was $10,624 in comparison to a white households income was $20,212.(3) The richest quintile of African Americans was $60,782 in comparison to whites, which was $84,891.(4) In 1995 the average poorest quintile of an African American household was $10,200 compared to a white persons household income was $20,916.(5) The richest quintile of an African American household was $84,744 in comparison to white household incomes, which was $125,196.(6) This goes to show that the black household income still lags far behind the white household income, it actually marks a decrease in the income of the poorest black households between 1968 and 1995.(7)
The growth of the black middle class was flourishing. In 1940 only 5.2 percent of black men and 6.4 percent of black women worked in white-collar occupations.(8) However by 1990 this rose to 32 percent for black men and 58.9 percent for black women.(9) This was still below that of the average white families percentile. In 1940 only one percent of black families, compared to 12 percent of white families, had income at least twice as high as the governments poverty line.(10) By 1995 almost 49 percent of black families did, compared to 75 percent of white families.(11) The duration of Clinton as president was very beneficial to the middle class black population.
Today black women make 94 percent of what white women earn. In 1992, 39.1 percent of black households earned less than $15,000 annually and by 1997 the
percentage had declined to 31 percent.(12) The overall black poverty rate in 1997 was 26.5 percent, which has been the lowest record so far.(13) Overall approximately 1.7 million black Americans went off poverty between 1992 and 1998.(14) This is also because there has been an increase for employment, and more jobs are being created and provided. In 1997, the nations unemployment rate was at 4.6 percent, which has been the lowest since 1970.(15) The increasing influence of many black people rests not only on the removal of racial barriers to their employment, and the implementation of affirmative action programs, but also on the increase of education. At time many more black youths graduated from high school. In 1960 the number of African Americans between the ages of 25-29 who completed high school stood at 37.7 percent, but by 1995 it had climbed to 86.5 percent.(16)The enrollment of blacks in college has also increased.In 1960 136,00 attended college while in 1990 1,300,000 attended.(17) Despite the emergence of a substantial black middle class, many African Americans remained mired in poverty.
In 1997 more then nine million African Americans were below poverty level. (18) The black poverty rate is somewhat lower than that of the Hispanic Americans but more than twice that of non-Hispanics white Americans. Most poor black people are
trapped in inner-city neighborhoods. Many of them are involved with gangs, drug addiction, and high rates of diseases. They are cut off from meaningful participation in
the social and economic life of the rest of the country. This high rate of poverty has a tremendous effect on children of African American decent. More than half of all African
Americans under the age of eighteen live in families with only one parent, which is almost always the mother.(19) Female-headed single parent families suffer from limited earnings capacity, meager public assistance, poor housing, and inferior education.
The number of children living in households run by their mothers is also in high numbers. In 1960 19.9 percent of black women were single mothers running their household, in comparison to white women, which was that of 6.1 percent.(20) In 1990 the number grew increasingly to 58.1 percent for black females and 16.1 percent of white females running the households.(21) So where are these single black females living with their children? The location of the households headed by black women in 1990 was 60.9 percent within central cities, as to where 27.7 percent of white women lived in central cities.(22) Living in Suburbs were 24.3 percent of black females and 49.5 percent white females. Non-metropolitan areas consisted 14.8 percent blacks and 22.8 percent whites.(24) The statistics here show that poverty has only increased through out the last 30 years and will continue if we dont find a solution.
The fact is that job opportunity is not available to African Americans as well as job training and education. As long as these things keep continuing we are going to be through the same cycle. It isnt affecting those who are above poverty line, however, it is affecting those who are below and who might never get on top. The cause and effects of this cycle are crucial. It seems as though there are no solutions that will ever end the cycle of poverty and the equality within the labor force. By looking at all these statistics we can come to the conclusion that we do have a real problem. The problem will
continue if we dont find a solution. Labor plays an important role in the solution of decreasing poverty levels. If we can supply jobs at reasonable wages, then we can gain a lower poverty level.
We can also see the relation that labor ties into the racialization of poverty. If we took the time to solve one problem, then the overall problem of poverty might be
better solved. With out well paying jobs and benefits were are not even allowing the African Americans below poverty level to even play in the game. Perhaps politicians arent realizing that by helping those who are on poverty we are actually helping ourselves. However, the help we are giving them now just isnt enough. Its impossible to survive on the amounts of money allotted to them. Its impossible to ever stay ahead of the game. We can see through the statistics given that we have a problem. Perhaps who ever is in charge of this country should try living on welfare for a month or two and see how they manage their money and time with 2 children.
It seems as though talking about solving the problem is often an issue, but when it comes down to action, no one is standing up. There are many things that can contribute to the decrease of poverty.There are large amounts of money being distributed to the military that could contribute to welfare. Whoever is in charge is not providing a plan of action that is working. People on welfare will never get a fair start if we dont give them the proper chance to do so. The welfare plan is not working; therefore, other things need to be included in this plan of action. More government
funds need to be geared towards welfare. Only one percent is geared towards welfare at this time. More focused needs to be geared towards education, job training, and job opportunity. If we can supply people with childcare, then families will have a place to safely place their children while they are working.
Health services are also another main issue for African Americans on welfare. Proper health care must be provided for both parents and children in order to promote their own well being both physically and mentally. Providing education about birth-
control and STDs would also be worthwhile. By doing this, we dont take away their own choices but we provide them with information so that they know the consequences.
The system that is set up now to better the problem of poverty is not working. Perhaps if officials who were elected actually proceeded with the things they promise during their campaign, then this wouldnt be such a problem. But the fact remains that African Americans who are below the poverty line very rarely vote. We need to go into these areas and give them the education, job opportunities and training, health services, and childcare that will help them recover. We need to promote policies, which improve the lives and developmental capacities of African American low-income children and families in the nation. In the end if this is accomplished we wont just being helping those less fortunate, we will be helping ourselves and bettering the economy for everyone. In the words of Ani Difranco, This country is too large
and whoever’s in charge up there had better take the elevator down
and put more than change in our cup or else were coming up.(25)