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Forbes.com

 

50 Years After The Civil Rights Act, Integration Remains Elusive

July 31, 2014

By Avik Roy

The significance and reach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964–signed by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this July–goes without saying. People in 1964 could scarcely have imagined that we'd so quickly have a black President and black billionaires and a large black middle class. But midcentury Americans might also have been surprised by the persistence of black poverty, despite massive federal attention to the problem.

In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12% of whites lived in poverty; 26% of blacks did. That's an improvement from 1959, when 55% of black families lived in poverty. But we appear to have reached a ceiling. Despite the $1 trillion a year we spend on antipoverty programs, the rate of black poverty has actually increased since 2000.

To those on the left, the persistence of black poverty is most obviously the result of systemic racism and of the inadequacy in the scale and scope of existing government programs. Conservatives often make the opposite case–that government programs are retarding, rather than advancing, black success.

Both perspectives have their strengths and their weaknesses. If there's one thing we've learned in the past several decades, it is the limits of the ability of federal intervention to solve these problems. We spend $450 billion a year on Medicaid, and yet health outcomes for black people on Medicaid are no different than those for blacks with no health insurance at all.

But the traditional American conservative view–get government out of the way, and everything will work out–is not sufficient to address chronic, intergenerational black poverty.

There are descendants of slaves in America whose families have never known middle-class prosperity, who don't have the career networks, educational opportunities or cultural resources that other Americans take for granted. Their challenges require our special attention.

One striking fact is that the social integration of blacks with other Americans has lagged behind. One way to measure this is intermarriage rates. Think of it this way: If you're willing to accept someone from a different ethnic background as part of your family, that's the very definition of integration.

Intermarriage is a part of the reason immigrants continue to blend into the broader American community. The Pew Research Center found that “second-generation Americans … are substantially better off than [first-generation] immigrants themselves on key measures of socioeconomic attachment. … They have higher incomes; more are college graduates and homeowners; and fewer live in poverty. In all of these measures their characteristics resemble those of the full U.S. adult population.”

A separate Pew study found that in 2010, 26% of Hispanics married a non-Hispanic; 28% of Asians married a non-Asian. On the other hand, only 17% of blacks married someone of a different ethnicity. And that discrepancy has played a role in the continued geographic segregation of African-American communities.

Geographic concentration means that blacks pay a high price for failing urban schools. Local governments bar parents from finding their kids a better education, and fewer poor black children make it to college. Colleges' affirmative action policies, as a result, end up primarily rewarding the children of wealthy black parents.

Inflexible federal sentencing laws, obviated by better policing, are robbing black communities of young men. Try getting a job if you've been to prison. And ex-convicts tend not to get married, a big problem when the poverty rate for black single mothers is 48%. (For married black couples it's just 8%.)

Black economic equality won't be achieved by more federal spending, nor by tax cuts. To fully realize the promise of 1964, all of us–Republican and Democrat; suburban and urban; black, white and brown–simply need to do more to try to live together, as neighbors and relatives. Some things just can't be legislated.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/07/31/50-years-later-integration-remains-elusive/

 

 
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