Sunday, December 30, 2012

Race vs. class in the USA: poverty

"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." —Dale Maharidge

For decades, I would've guessed the worst poverty in the US was in Watts, Appalachia, or Mississippi. Not true. From The Poorest Part of America*:
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 race of the people there? is largely white. The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm.
From U.S. economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty:
Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.
Regardless of race, in the US, you have very little real hope of rising to a higher economic class. (See the "Country by Country" graph at A Closer Look at Income Mobility.)

If you focus on the fact that poverty in the US is racially disproportionate, you lay the grounds for two lies:

1. The racist lie: People of color are disproportionately poor because they're lazy or incapable.

2. The anti-racist lie: Poverty is primarily a problem for people of color.

The last time I checked, the poverty percentages looked like this:
Poverty rates for Blacks: 24.7 percent
Hispanics: 21.9 percent
Non-Hispanic Whites: 8.6 percent
Asians: 9.8 percent
The hard numbers looked like this:
Asian persons in poverty: 992,856 (2.92% of the people in poverty)
Black or African American persons in poverty: 9,168,000 (25.17% of the people in poverty)
Hispanic or Latino persons in poverty: 9,368,000 (22.68% of the people in poverty)
non-Hispanic Whites persons in poverty: 16,227,000 (49.23% of the people in poverty)
The hard numbers of Americans in poverty continue to increase, but the racial percentages haven't changed in decades. Shortly before his death, Martin Luther King wrote:
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.
Thinking of poverty as a racial problem ignores 49% of the problem. Poverty is a human problem, and the solution is the same for everyone: better work, housing, food, health care, education... Poverty does not need to be made racially proportionate. It needs to be eliminated.

* Linked to a blog because that's from an Economist article that you have to pay to view.