As part of the Race in America conference, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work and Center on Race and Social Problems, a number of sessions and presenters were focused on economic disparities for minorities.
In her keynote speech on “Economic Justice,” Julianne Malveaux, a noted commentator and economist, presented startling statistics illustrating the dire economic status of African-Americans and other minorities.
|JULIANNE MALVEAUX speaks at the conference.
“African-Americans have no assets. We are looking at this data because it’s the best report card of economic status,” said Malveaux. “It has nothing to do with African-Americans saving less or not being as financially conscious. Economic activism is not something we do anymore. There’s been a diversity movement, but diversity is not economic justice. There has never been economic justice for African-American people.”
Malveaux compared income levels of different ethnic groups whereas Whites have a median income of $170,000 and Blacks an income of $17,000. She also compared the poverty level for the entire country, 13.2 percent, with poverty among the African-American community at 24.5 percent.
To combat these statistics, Malveaux said it was necessary to enact policies to reverse those of the past that have led to the wealth gap.
“We have public policy that failed to let African-Americans accumulate. When we look at the wealth gap, we’re looking at a history where people said you can only have so much,” Malveaux said. “No wonder that by 1960, 54 percent of the African-American community were poor. That awful time period is responsible for many of the gaps we see now.”
Along her journey through history, Malveaux stopped at landmarks such as the New Deal, a series of economic programs she feels led to an increase in economic disparities. She also highlighted the G.I. Bill, a program that provided educational and financial benefits to World War II veterans, but largely excluded Blacks.
“You’ve got some people who are very interested in being progressive and others who would like to go back to the way things were in the 1950s. If people understand the full history of the economic gap maybe they will think differently,” Malveaux said. “There has never been a public policy plan to deal with the status of African-Americans. We collectively will become a developing nation if we fail to invest in the minority because they soon will become the majority. “
Other presenters throughout the conference agreed that poverty for minorities could soon translate to economic disaster for the entire country. Despite America’s social structure where minorities are overwhelmingly ignored, they identified ways to begin improving these conditions.
“The economic cost of high poverty costs all of us. I think that might be a more effective strategy to convince middle class folks that poverty is very costly to the entire country,” said Harry Holzer, professor, Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “There are political realities in this country that are going to make it harder for some things to succeed, but at the end of the day, skills are going to matter. There are some things we can do to change structure. Build skills, access, opportunity.”