January 12, 2007

PEOPLE OF COLOR VOTE BLUE, BUT STAY IN THE RED

A new report finds that while people of color support Democrats in the voting booth, they are still waiting for policies and programs that close the economic gap between them and whites.

The report by United for a Fair Economy studied the economic proposals in the US House Democrats’ first 100-hours agenda, which are designed to help those on the lower rungs of America’s economic ladder. The report found that, in general, the 100-hour agenda does not address the race gap. It says that to do so would require adding affirmative action elements and other more targeted methods of reaching Blacks and Latinos to the proposed legislation.

“It’s great that the new leadership in Congress is bringing renewed focus to lifting more people out of poverty, but they will have to do much more to close the racial economic divide that still exists almost 40 years after the civil rights movement,” said Meizhu Lui, co-author of the report and executive director of United for a Fair Economy. “African Americans, the Democrats’ most loyal supporters, should expect more in hour 101 and beyond.”

The report found that while the number of Blacks and Latinos who will benefit is disproportionately higher than whites for the minimum wage increases and college loan interest rate reductions contained in the plan, this is only because they are disproportionately over-represented among those working at or below poverty level and among those with few assets and resources to pay for college. In the case of prescription drugs and alternatives to oil, the changes may benefit proportionally more whites than people of color.

According to the report, the number of Blacks and Latinos assisted by the proposals is positive, but the impact of the assistance will not change the relative economic inequities among the races.

In addition, the report found that:

* Two of the proposals - increasing the minimum wage and decreasing college loan interest rates - provide some economic support to low-income Blacks and Latinos. But not only are their numbers higher in the lower-income and lower-asset tiers of our economy, their unemployment rates are rising and their college enrollments are falling due to the skyrocketing cost of a college education.

* The Medicare drug coverage proposal helps only middle-income Blacks and Latinos, whose numbers are small relative to the overall population.

* The investment in alternative energy proposal offers the promise of high-wage jobs, but would not help Blacks and Latinos much since they are underrepresented among those receiving advanced degrees in math and science and among those residing in the Midwest, where the ethanol industry is based.

* The minimum wage proposal of three 70-cent increases during the next two years is inadequate. Even if the same increase of 70 cents were approved every single year after that, a minimum wage worker, supporting a family of three, still would not rise above the poverty level until 2013.

* The college loan proposal, which saves a typical college student $5,600 in total, will not help African American and Latino students as much as white students. Black families have only 15 percent of the wealth of white families, resulting in less capacity to handle debt. Moreover, Black college graduates on the average earn half as much as the overall population of college graduates over their lifetimes, making college debt burdens more onerous for non-whites.

The report is the fourth in a series of “State of the Dream” reports published annually for Martin Luther King Day. The previous reports are available for free download from the website, FairEconomy.org.

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