(NNPA) The United States’ population is growing increasingly diverse, but the sharp demographic shift is unlikely to close the huge economic gap between Whites and people of color, according to an annual report issued by United For a Fair Economy, a nonpartisan think tank that studies wealth and power in the U.S.
Each year the Boston-based organization issues its “State of the Dream” report near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Citing Census Bureau figures, the report notes that Whites constituted 80 percent of the U.S. population in 1980. By 2010, that figure had slipped to 65 percent. And by 2042, Whites will become a minority for the first time since the Colonial days.
“If the trends in racial economic inequality continue at the rate that they have since 1980, the changing demographics of the country will produce a vast racialized underclass that will persist even after the majority of the country is non-White,” the report concluded.
Examples of racial and ethnic inequality in the U.S. include:
In 2010, the median family income of Black and Latino families was 57 cents to every dollar of White median family income. By 2042, the median Black family will earn approximately 61 cents for every dollar of income earned by Whites. Latino families are projected to earn only 45 cents in 2042 on every dollar of White median family income.
The wealth gap is particularly disturbing. In 2007, at the height of the housing bubble, the average White family net worth was five times greater than the average Black net worth and more than 3.5 times the average Latino net worth. If current trends continue, the report states, Black families will by 2042 accumulate 19 cents for each dollar of White net worth. Latinos will have 25 cents per dollar. That means the wealth gap between Whites and people of color in 2042 will be even larger than it is today.
Education is the most important tool we have to expand social mobility Thanks to civil rights gains, affirmative action and other progress, Black adults are 60 percent as likely to have a college degree as White adults; Latinos are only 42 percent as likely. If current trends continue, by 2042, African-Americans will continue to make progress in closing the education gap. However, the gap will be even larger for Latinos.
People of color represent more than 65 percent of the prison population, largely because of harsh drug laws and selective prosecutions that are part of the war on drugs. Blacks are six times more likely to be in prison than Whites. Roughly 65 percent of Black men born since the mid-1970s have prison records. The report observes, “If current trends continue to 2042, the percentage of people of color who have experienced jail time will dwarf even that number.”
To reduce what it calls the “perverse concentration of wealth and power in the U.S.,” the report declares, “We need nothing less than a diverse, powerful social movement dedicated to advancing meaningful policy solutions on many fronts to reduce the racial divide.”
It will take a powerful movement to counter to corrupting influence that money has on politics.
“To gain political power necessary to make significant progress toward racial economic equality, the influence of money in politics must be reduced and voting rights for all Americans must be restored and protected,” the reports observes. “Eliminating racial inequality will require a powerful and sustained political movement, aligned not just along the lines of race, but also by economic interests.”
Authors of the report noted that the Occupy Wall Street movement and similar efforts around the country are steps in the right direction toward building a broad coalition.
In the aftermath of King Day celebrations, it is important to remember that Dr. King was organizing a Poor People’s Campaign at the time of his assassination. Encouraged by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968, he was creating a movement to address economic injustice.
In his last speech on the eve of his assassination, referred to as the “Mountain Top” speech, Dr. King talked about the need to support Black business. He said, “We begin the process of building a greater economic base.”
Picking up where King left off, the report stated, “It is a moral and economic imperative that we address the racial economic divide now. If we are to chart a path to a more promising future, one in which the racial economic divide is significantly narrowed and prosperity is more broadly shared, then we must take immediate action to ensure that the coming majority is not further burdened by the legacy of racism and White supremacy in the United States.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.