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Disparity by the Numbers (Part 1)

Editor's Note: The following was originally posted on Katelin Hansen's blog, By Their Strange Fruit and has been reposted with permission. It is part one of a series, to be continued next week.


In a 'colorblind' world, it is often tempting to believe we live in a 'post-racial' society. We want to believe that race doesn't matter anymore when it comes to shaping someone's chances at succeeding in life.

So what do the data say about having reached racial equality?
Let's take a look at some of the numbers:

Income and Employment

Unemployment rates for Black folk have been double that of white Americans for decades. The statistics that Martin Luther King Jr. quoted during his marches are almost exactly the same today. Black men working full time earn 72% of what white men make at the same job. The Latino unemployment rate has increased two times faster than whites’ since 2000. People of color are less likely to be interviewed, hired, and promoted than white workers with comparable resumes.

Black children are three times more likely to live in poverty than white children. American Indian and Latino families are more likely to live in poverty. And there hasn't been much improvement over the years. While Latino households made about 76% as much as white households in 1980, it had further decreased to 72% by 2005. The median income for white households was $50,622 in that year,  but was $30,939 for Black households, and $36,278 for Latino households.

The poverty rate was reported at 8.3% for white Americans, but was 24.9% for Black folk, 21.8% for Latinos and 11.1% for Asian Americans. Though it is popular to state that the median family income for Asian Americans is the highest of any race, this statistic is carefully constructed to obscure the true disparity. Per capita, Asian Americans make 20% less than White Americans, and the statistic further crumbles when broken down by nationality.

Indeed, "Asian Americans top whites in family income only because Asian families have on average more people working per household." Change “family income” to “personal income, and you get a very different story. Given that Asian American poverty is rarely represented on TV and in the news, the pressing needs of many in the community remain invisible and unassisted (See post: Model Minority).

Education

Black and Latino students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students. Latino, Black and American Indian students also have the highest dropout rates. Economic disparity means more students of color must maintain jobs while attending school in order to contribute to family income. And the pervasive school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately shuttles students of color into the judicial system. Students of color are also less likely to be offered gifted programs, AP courses, or college counseling.

Here again, the 'model minority' myth works against Asian American students. An individual's misfortune is more likely to be seen as an anomaly of personal failing than as a consequence of a broken system. This perception leads to under-funding of assistance programs/scholarships for a large chunk of Asian Americans that do not fit the stereotype. Teachers are less likely to offer special help, or even to check in on their Asian American student, leaving them to fend for themselves. But Asian Americans, like Black students, have to stay in school longer to get paid the same as a white person.

How should Christians respond to these statistics?
What can the Church do to combat systemic racial disadvantage?

Stay tuned next week, as we look at housing, incarceration, and health disparities...

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Katelin Hansen

Katelin Hansen (@BTSFblog) is the Minister of Music at UM Church 4 All People, a multi-class, multi-racial church in an underprivileged neighborhood of Columbus, OH. Four years ago, she and her husband moved to the vicinity to live in intentional fellowship with the surrounding community. Katelin is also the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online forum facilitating racial justice and solidarity for the sake of the Gospel.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.