In 1967, Martin Luther King said, "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike."
Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are three times as many poor whites as poor blacks if you include Hispanics who identify as white, or there are still twice as many poor whites if you exclude white Hispanics:
from Table B. People in Poverty:
|2009||2010||Change in poverty|
Race and Hispanic Origin
White, not Hispanic
Virtually all of the 20 poorest counties in America, in terms of wages, are on the eastern flank of the Rockies or on the western Great Plains ... The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm.Sherman Alexie alluded to that in Diary of a Part-time Indian. mentioning a place that's
...filled with the poorest Indians and poorer-than-poorest white kids. Yes, there is a place in the world where the white people are even poorer than you ever thought possible.Dale Maharidge notes:
Four-fifths of us who work for salaries or wages make less than $20 an hour. This is a poor country. We're a nation of the working poor, and it's something that people don't want to acknowledge.Regardless of race, Americans have less hope of rising to a higher economic class than people in Canada and Western European countries.
2. The drug war and the death penalty
You can find people of all races in US prisons, but you'll have to look hard to find anyone who wasn't poor. From Prison Legal News: "Most prisoners report incomes of less than $8,000 a year in the year prior to coming to prison. A majority were unemployed at the time of their arrest."
The part of the criminal system that most disproportionately targets poor people of color is the drug war. John McWhorter notes, "the primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the War on Drugs. Therefore, if the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist. America would be a better place for all."
Class is the uniting factor in the death penalty, too: "Ninety-five % of defendants charged with capital crimes are indigent and cannot afford their own attorney to represent them. They are forced to use inexperienced, underpaid court-appointed attorneys."
To make sense of class, race, and the death penalty, we need the racial breakdown of the 46.18 million Americans living in poverty. Using the 2010 census, here's how poverty looks in racial terms:
|Number||% of U.S. Poor|
White, not Hispanic
And here's the US population:
Here are the racial percentages for people legally executed for murder since 1976:
WHITE: 56%The races of their victims:
WHITE: 77%The breakdown of murder victims is relatively closer to that of the US population; the racial breakdown of murderers is closer to that of US poverty, though in both cases, the Hispanic population seems to be under-represented. This may be due to differences in rural and urban poverty: the black poor are more urban. Or there may be other factors. At Race and the Death Penalty, John McAdams says:
...it is clearly the case that blacks who murder whites are treated more harshly than are blacks who murder blacks. This looks like racial disparity if you assume that the circumstances are similar in the two cases. Unfortunately, it's vastly unlikely that they are. Most murders are among people who know each other. Murders done by strangers are much more likely to be regarded as heinous than are murders growing out of domestic quarrels, drug deals gone wrong, and such. It might seem reasonable to compare the punishment received by blacks who murder whites with the treatment received by whites who murder blacks. Unfortunately, while black on white crime is relatively rare, white on black crime is even rarer. There simply isn't an adequate statistical base to allow us to generalize about whites who murder blacks, which pretty much leaves us to compare the way the system treats blacks who murder blacks with the way it treats whites who murder whites. When we do this, we find some fairly solid-looking evidence that the system is unfairly tough on white murderers -- or if you prefer, unfairly lenient on black murderers. But even this finding is one we have to be skeptical about. Is the average black on black murder quite similar to the average white on white murder? Or are there systematic differences?When I wrote about this in 2005, someone who identified himself as Carl commented:
For the past 20+ years I’ve worked in the criminal justice system – the past 8 years for a criminal defense firm, and the 14 years before that as a court clerk – I’ve done more death penalty cases than I want to think about (very few attorneys or judges ever want to do even one, and once you’ve done one, you never want to do another – they’re brutal on everyone involved), and can honestly say that in my experience (in California – your state may be different), the vast majority of DP felons (and felons in general) tend to be poor, poorly educated, and not very bright in general, with very poor social and coping skills. While there are occasional exceptions, they are damned rare.Carl's reference to OJ Simpson points to a truth about race, class, and crime: Middle and upper-class black folks are no more likely to be in prison than white middle and upper-class folks.
The only notable exception I worked on was a wealthy woman who went even more psycho (she was bizarre at first, and went completely around the bend when her husband dumped her in favor of Next Year’s Model), and murdered the ex and his new wife in their beds. That one showed up on TV, both in the news and in movies-of-the-week, and she managed to avoid the death penalty, where poorer killers were far more likely to get Death. (Yes – you can probably guess the name).
In my experience (and hers, and OJ’s), money plays a far greater role than ethnicity.
3. Gender, prison, and rape
Carrie Lukas offers a conservative take on the gender wage gap in There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap:
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.Hanna Rosin offers a liberal take in The End of Men:
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same.How to determine wage equality today is tricky, but it's clear that while the economic gap between rich and poor is growing, the one between men and women is narrowing.
The rape gap has also narrowed for victims: "The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women."
The "likely" matters, because not all inmates are male, but the overwhelming majority are. From Women in Prisons:
Although the statistics can vary, approximately 2.5 million people are incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. Of these, according to a study conducted by the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice (IWCJ) in 2006, the number of women in prison is approximately 105,000.Since most prisoners are poor, we know most of those rape victims are poor.
One point that isn't tied to class, but is often cited by liberals. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly one in five women have been raped. Christina Hoff Sommers has a conservative response in CDC study on sexual violence in the U.S. overstates the problem:
Whatever the real numbers for sexual assault may be, even outside prison, poor people are more likely to suffer.
...where did the CDC find 13.7 million victims of sexual crimes that the professional criminologists had overlooked?
It found them by defining sexual violence in impossibly elastic ways and then letting the surveyors, rather than subjects, determine what counted as an assault.
Recommended: Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being (pdf)
An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women PREPARED FOR: U.S. Department of Labor (pdf)
WHAT DO WAGE DIFFERENTIALS TELL US ABOUT LABOR MARKET DISCRIMINATION? by June E. O’Neill and Dave M. O’Neill (pdf)