Saturday, August 31, 2013

From "I have a dream," to the nighmare of Black in America

The historic March on Washington of fifty years ago has been commemorated this month by a memorial march on Washington,  numerous interviews with elderly civil rights leaders reminiscing, lengthy  newspaper stories, and the analysis of the importance of the event by academics, pundits, and politicians in interviews, in forums and on panels.

While many expressed the opinion that there is still work to do and lamented that Blacks had not made more progress in achieving equality, many couched there arguments about the lack of Black progress in terms of "economic justice," and a failure of society to do enough.  Some said, America had not lived up to the dream.  It was sometimes subtle, but the thrust of the analysis was that the reason Black Americans had not made more progress is that they are still oppressed. There was a message that lack of equal outcomes is proof that  society is still racist.

Since 1963, official school segregation has disappeared and discrimination in public accommodations has ended and voting rights have been guaranteed. There are no more "Whites Only" lunch counter, or Black and White water fountains or restrooms, yet  in some ways Black Americans have been losing ground since 1963 despite law after law, million spend on anti-poverty programs and school busing and preferential hiring practices and school admission policies and quotas.

  • In 1963, Black unemployment was at 10 percent; it is now at 13 percent. Of course this is deceptive because to be counted as unemployed one has to be actively looking for work. Fewer Blacks are in the work force today than in 1963.
  • In 1963 while Black unemployment was 10%, White unemployment was only 5%. Today, while Black unemployment is 13%, White unemployment is only 7%. The gap has hardly changed.
  • Since 1963, the wealth gap between Black and Whites has actually increased. 
  • The Black poverty rate in1963 was 48% and by 2000 had fallen to 22%, but now has climbed back to 28%.
  • Despite the end of official school segregation, Black school children are almost as segregated as they were in 1963. 74% attend "intensely segregated (90 to 100% non-white)" schools.
  • The marriage gap between Blacks and Whites have widened. More whites marry than Blacks and the gap is larger than in 1963.
  • 52% of Black children are living in single-parent homes, compared with 20% percent of White children. This gap is larger than in 1963.
  • The incarceration rate of Black men is more than six times higher than that of White men,  larger than the gap in 1960.
  • In the early 1960's 23% of Black children were born out of wedlock, now it is 73%.

There are more and more statistics that could make the point. Black children, especially Black boys, are expelled from school or get in-school suspension more often than White children. Black youth are incarcerated at a much higher rate than White children. There is a large gap between Black home ownership and White home ownership. Black on Black crime is much greater than in 1963.

I do not think these statistics indicate that America is a racist country and that Black are oppressed. It is not White people that make Black children misbehave and require more suspensions, or Black men rob and murder and require more imprisonment, or make Black women have children born out of wedlock. There are pathological, self destructive behaviors in the Black community. We can't simply stop incarcerating Blacks until the ratio of Whites to Black represents their proportion of the population.  We can't mandate that Black be allowed to get home mortgages regardless of their credit worthiness. We can't require equal outcomes.

I know that there are reasons for the disparity between Blacks and Whites. Slavery and Jim Crow had an impact on the Black family and wealth creation. However, many immigrant groups have come to this country with nothing and achieved the American dream in  a generation. How long can we continue to blame Black lack of progress on slavery? Why have things not improved much, and in some cases gotten worse since 1963?

In my view, greater than the legacy of slavery or Jim Crow, the cause of the current pitiful state of Blacks in America is the welfare state and anti-poverty programs. We had a war on poverty, and poverty won. When one is given just enough that one is better off not working than working, when one is clustered in communities where there are no role models of successful people, when government policy makes the male a family liability, then people are trapped in poverty. With public housing, food stamps, Tncare, and a free cell phone, working becomes too expensive. We have had the wrong incentives in place. Our government policies have created a dependent class.

What is to be done?  For a short while, the experiment with welfare reform showed that people who had never worked could learn to work. We need to return to an aggressive policy of welfare reform. We need to greatly reduce the food stamp program and phase out public housing. Most of all, however, we need to promote education and marriage. Marriage and education are effective at reducing poverty.

It is racist to assume Blacks cannot learn. Our public schools have failed many children, but have especially failed Blacks.  There are examples across the country where Blacks are excelling. Many of those examples are in charter schools. Soulsville Charter school in Memphis is a good example. For the last two years, every high school graduate of that school got accepted into college. These are Black children from the inter city, most being raised by single moms. Instead of heading to prison, young boys in this school are headed to college. We need this model duplicated across the nation. We need to embrace what works.

There is probably nothing that would do more to advance the Black population than to encourage marriage. Of children in single parent households, 37% are poor yet only 6% of children in two-parent household are poor. There are many more Black children in single-parent households than White children. This is not the way it has to be.  The Black church should promote marriage, assistance programs than discourage intact families and reward single mothers should be changed. Instead of celebrating single mothers, we should shame them. It should not be a cause of celebration when a young single girl gets pregnant. From seat belt use, to smoking,  to ecology, attitudes have changed over time. Public disapproval of behavior can change behavior.  We need to change the public attitude about having children out of wedlock.

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