Following the general trend in the media, I will take Martin Luther King, junior Day to reflect on race in America. When King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he compared that present with the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. While matters had obvious improved, King pointed out that segregation, discrimination and poverty remained blights on the American dream. So how are things in 2020?
While there have been efforts to address segregation in American public schools, the overall picture is grim: segregation “has soared in American schools.” Segregation in housing also remains a problem. The current segregation is not a matter of laws that impose segregation; rather it arises from policies, practices and behavior that creates segregation in many ways. While some might be tempted to lay all the blame on white conservatives, white liberals are also instrumental in the preservation and expansion of segregation. From a moral standpoint it can be argued that what white liberals do is morally worse: in addition to the wrongness of contributing to segregation, they are also acting in violation of their professed principles. It should be noted that there are both liberals and conservatives who take positive action against segregation; though liberals talk the most about it. Yet little is done overall.
The United States professes equality as a core value while also endorsing the notions of success based on merit within a free and fair system of competition. These ideals perish instantly when exposed to muck of reality—discrimination is a serious problem in the United States, so much so that Human Rights Watch is, well, watching us. The Trump administration has also made it clear that it is, at best, indifferent to discrimination and actively engages in discriminatory actions while advancing discriminatory policies. While these mainly target foreigners, even these have a spillover effect on Americans. On a positive note, hate crimes have decreased in number. On the minus side, the number of violent hate crimes has increased. White nationalism has also become far more open, primarily because the Trump administration is, at best, ambivalent about the matter. While Trump himself seems to lack any coherent ideology, Stephen Miller clearly has one and has been doing his best to implement it. While some might contend that he cannot be a white nationalist, he most evidently is.
While the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, poverty is still a serious problem. Unemployment is at a record low and the stock market has generally been doing great, but the benefits of the economy flow upward and concentrate at the top. The overall poverty rate in the United States is 11.8%, using the Federal government’s definition of an income of $25,700 for a family of four. 29.9% of the population lives close to poverty (incomes less than twice the poverty level). 5.3% of the population is in deep poverty, making less than 50% of the poverty level of income.
While the exact income that counts as poverty can be debated. MIT has created a very informative living wage calculator: the income required for a household to earn to support itself. Where I live (Leon County) an adult with no children could support themselves on $24,763. But a family of four would need $64,047 per year if both adults worked or $52,333 if only one does. As such, a family meeting the Federal definition would be in dire straits indeed. Poverty, as one would expect, is not distributed evenly and non-whites have the highest poverty levels; in some cases, 2-2.5 times that of white Americans.
While some might be tempted to chalk up these poverty levels to various failings on the part of the poor, such as laziness, many of the poor are elderly (9.7%), the disabled or children (16.2%). There are also the working poor who compose 6.3% of the labor force. It must also be noted that falling below the living wage in an area means that a person is poor, then many full-time workers are poor. This would, of course, create a debate about what it is to be poor and why people are poor—a debate fraught with ideological bias. But it is fair to say that for whatever reasons people are poor, poverty is still a serious problem.