. . . the American Dream is still a restless night


    Consider this data from a study by Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy, of the median wealth, not including home equity, of white families versus black families:

    in 1984, Whites –  22,000   Blacks – 2,000    difference  20,000

    in 2007, Whites – 100,000   Blacks – 5,000    difference  95,000

    (the figures are from a study by the Urban Institute)

    Or as Derrick Jackson puts in, in an op ed titled An elusive payoff (subtitled “Gains elsewhere belie a wealth gap for black families”),

    The study said the gap in 1984 amounted to a couple years of public college tuition. Today, the gap would fund “full tuition at a four-year public university for two children, plus tuition at a public medical school.”

    Jackson offers further data which shows how severe the gap is becoming.   Consider these median figures

    High income white families   240,000

    Middle income white families  74,000

    High income black families    18,000

    Of course I urge you to read all of Jackson’s column.  He and the author of the study make clear that the disparity is not because blacks are less wise with their money.  There is still disparity in lending – for housing and for home equity loans – that “disproportionately forces black families into more onerous financial arrangements.”  Blacks may take on higher debt or pay disproportionate rates for education, and seem to have a stronger propensity to help out extended family.  That means that rather than accumulating wealth from income equivalent to white families, they have to spend more.

    And, as Thomas Shapiro, co-author of the study points out,

    according to the Pew Economic Mobility Project, the vast majority of federal deductions and benefits to enhance upward mobility ended up in the hands of the wealthiest Americans. For instance, between 72 percent and 98 percent of deductions for retirement savings, health insurance, home mortgages, self-employed health insurance, and preferential rates on capital gains in 2006 went to the top 20 percent of income-earning Americans.

    I want to try to connect this to education, the field I know the best.  We have known for years of the correlation between performance on test and family socioeconomic status.  Since Blacks (and Hispanics) are, compared to whites, disproportionally lower on the SES scale, there so-called achievement gap has been to a large degree an artifact of the the disparity of income.  

    But it is also in part an artifact of the disparity of wealth.  Jackson begins with noting that the percentage of African Americans living in suburbs has now crossed the 50% mark.  Yet in many cases those are the inner ring of suburbs, with older, less valuable, housing stock.  That provides a lower tax base for the communities in which they are located, which therefore means less revenue for the local government to devote to schools.

    I teach in Prince George’s County Maryland, which by income is the wealthiest majority black political jurisdiction in the US.  Unlike some states, Maryland has relatively few school districts, only 24:  the City of Baltimore and each of the 23 counties.  While Prince George’s has some wealthy neighborhoods, some of which have substantial numbers of Black families and increasing numbers of racially mixed familis, the inner ring of suburbs adjacent to Washington DC are very heavily Black, include most of the County’s Hispanics, and are disproportionally poorer.  And while the County taxes property at a uniform rate, the lower value of homes in those neighborhoods reduces the overall revenue available for education across the County, not just in those neighborhoods.

    Further, students from families of lesser wealth do not gain the same advantages from family income equal to those of white families with greater wealth.  There is less ability to respond to crises.  This includes things like opportunity for educationally related enrichment.

    That is the immediate situation.  The long-term prognosis should also concern us.  Families with greater wealth are able to pass that on to the next generation.  That means the disproportion we see now will, if we do not address it, increase over time.  Or, as Jackson puts it in his final sentence For too many achieving families, the American Dream is still a restless night.

    a restless night –  ponder that image.

    We have a President of Color.   We have increasing numbers of high achievers coming from families of color.  We are beginning to overcome the intolerance that has existed towards children of marriages of mixed color.  Persons of color increasingly are in positions of power and influence.

    And yet, the United States Senate has had since direct election of its members only 4 Blacks, never more than 1 at a time.  

    While CEOs and university presidents are now occasionally black, the inequality that so concerned this nation a half century ago during the Great Society has still not been overcome, not when the disparity in wealth is increasing.

    I offer no solutions.  I am not an economist.  As a teacher, I see the impact of the disparity of wealth.  As a citizen I realize that the problem will not disappear if we ignore it, and we cannot address it until we are willing to examine it honestly.

    We have gone through several decades where economic policies of our national government have disproportionately favored those already well-off.  That disproportionately favored Whites.  

    We are not yet in a post-racial society.

    And this child of White, upper-middle class privilege thinks it is time we are honest with ourselves, and recognize that even if we do not talk about it, race is still an issue in this nation, at least economically.

    The American Dream should be color blind.  After all, we now know a child of color can grow up to be President.  

    But the dream should not be just for the few big achievers.  It should encompass all of our families.

    A dream, not a night of tossing and turning, worrying about the future,

    The American Dream, not a restless night.

    That’s my reaction to reading Jackson this morning.

    What do you think?



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