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Inequality remains a pressing issue for African-Americans


“Ignorance,” as the old saying goes, “is bliss.” Therefore, it might be easier to think that in current times racism and housing discrimination are events of the past, and that society has come such a long way since.

Taken in totality for African-Americans and other persons of color, not much has changed in terms of societal equality. The inequality in many urban cities, such as Los Angeles, still exist. The on-going segregation in Los Angeles—spanning secondary schools to “food deserts”–has resulted in a striking difference in quality of life issues separated largely by the 10 Freeway. Neighborhoods east of that thoroughfare are predominantly Black and Latino. For decades, residents there have witnessed their fair share of high crime, inadequate educational choices, and a lack of health-care services.

Segregated neighborhoods

Black communities are still segregated and deprived from resources that White neighborhoods generally take for granted. Between 1880 and 1940, racial segregation doubled nationwide, with most growth taking place in urban cities. During the second Great Migration (after WWI),  many Blacks migrated from the segregated South to industrial cities, such as Chicago, New York City, and Detroit to find work and build communities.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that Los Angeles saw a wave of African-American workers move west with their families, as a response to World War II recruitment in the defense industry. The Black population in LA rose drastically from approximately 63,700 in 1940, to an estimated 350,000 by 1965. During World War II and the resulting Black migration from the South in search of better job opportunities, Los Angeles was one of many cities that had a form of economic discrimination directed toward Blacks in the form of housing covenants (or segregation de facto) that hindered African-Americans from buying property in certain neighborhoods. It continued after the Supreme Court ruled such tactics as illegal in 1948 and after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

At the beginning of the 1930s,  the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation plotted to design maps with marked areas called “redlining” to separate Black neighborhoods from White neighborhoods. Banks  would not provide loans to perspective Black home-buyers who wanted to move to a White neighborhood, and banks also wouldn’t loan to White real estate developers if it was close to a Black neighborhood.

The reason for the formation of the Black ghettos was to solve two major “dilemmas.” First, the mindset of White persons about so-called “Blackness” to be a threat and therefore to be “controlled.” And second, a wealth issue, as wages for White workers were rising, factory owners considered it as a threat to profitability. Therefore, Black workers were scared to negotiate rates of pay in fear of the competition in the first place, but also out of fear to lose employment due to the ongoing discrimination.

As a result, many African-Americans became excluded from the White neighborhoods, earning less income than White workers. But African-Americans also faced a decline of general labor jobs due to “economic restructuring” between the late ‘60s to the late ‘80s, which left many Blacks affected by either being unemployed or underemployed with substandard wages and few fringe benefits. This contributed to poverty and inequality in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.

“Redlining” also meant the refusal or increase in service costs, such as insurance and banking, and the exclusion from better paid jobs, health care, as well as something as rudimentary as a nearby supermarket.

The fleeing of Whites to the suburbs—known as “White Flight”–also contributed to the formation of ghettos and the inequality that came with it.

In 1910, 80 percent of Los Angeles was dealing with racially restrictive real estate opportunities, which rose to 95 percent by the 1940s. Many Blacks who served in World War II faced housing discrimination and were pushed to East and South LA. These lead to under served educational and socioeconomic opportunities.

Therefore, many Blacks wanted to move into White neighborhoods, such as the suburbs. Many banks and real estate agents took advantage of these neighborhoods and began catering to African-Americans (due to the aforementioned “White Flight”) via the method of “blockbusting,” which was a method of selling or renting a house to a Black family—on an-all White block—in buying off the remaining houses for cheap and selling them at higher prices to African-American homeowners.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was intended to change racial disparities in home ownership, but it did very little to quell the fears of White residents. “Blackness” was still considered a financial risk and Black home buyers were charged more than Whites and were often forced into foreclosure because of financial constraints, thereby allowing real estate agents to resell the property to White clients. This practice helped to push out Blacks to poorer neighborhoods.

Inequality in the wealth gap

There are various reasons that contribute to the wealth gap of African-Americans to Whites.

According to a 2016 data conducted by the Federal Reserve, the median wealth for African-Americans 25 years of age and older was less than one-tenth in comparison to Whites the same age. Also, the Black-White wealth gap has not recovered from the Great Recession in 2007. The data also suggested that Blacks have fewer savings but tend to need more because of inconsistency in income, therefore African-Americans tend to fall behind in their bills more frequently and experience debt at a higher rate than Whites.

The data also highlights that African-Americans face more challenges to even out the wealth gap with Whites, which persists regardless of educational or marital status, age, or income. This means that Blacks have fewer benefits than Whites and therefore less likely to be homeowners, or have their own business, not too mention own a retirement account.

One of the issues persistent is the fact that Whites make twice as much money as African-Americans, although the minimum wage has been raised to $14.25.

Inequality in Schools

According to various studies, children who went to better schools and moved to better neighborhoods improved in their overall school performance, as well as seemed happier and got better jobs later in life.

According to a New York University study conducted by by sociologist Patrick Sharkey,  Black children who lived in under served neighborhoods and were born between 1955 and 1970 faced inequalities and challenges. The study also revealed that African-American children born between 1985 to 2000 still faced the same inequalities and challenges.

Today, many Black and Latinx students are segregated by poverty and race. The report also says that Black youth are increasingly isolated from White, middle-class peers primarily because the Greater Los Angeles landscape is largely segregated (between Whites and persons of color).

Food deserts

South L.A. experiences quite a number of areas with food deserts. Food deserts are considered an area deprived of fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, and other healthy whole foods, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Health Issues

And because of the lack of finding fresh produce, children and their families are forced to go to fast food places that advertise cheaper, unhealthy choices. This leads to health issues, such as diabetes. According to Larry Finison of the Connecticut Health Foundation, who has studied the correlation of neighborhoods and lack of resources, if the neighborhood has a high crime rate, it’s not safe for kids to play outside, therefore the lack of exercise and the exposure to bad food choices leads children to higher obesity rates as well.

Also, children who grow up in under served neighborhoods—with abuse, neglect, and witnessing violence each day—are said to suffer long-term health effects, physically and mentally.