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A depressing statistic

6/2/2010, 10:33 a.m.
“I’m dropping out rather than be crippled with a lot of debt.”

A depressing statistic

When considering the racial economic disparity in America, the usual inclination is to focus on poverty. Indeed, the data are disquieting. In 2008, 24.7 percent of blacks and only 8.6 percent of whites had incomes below the poverty level.

During the current recession, another disturbing statistic gained attention. Americans swelled the ranks of the unemployed; blacks, however, were adversely affected at almost twice the rate of whites — 16.5 percent to only 8.8 percent in March.

Now a new shocking report has generated international attention. The Institute of Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University disclosed that the wealth gap between white and African American families has grown more than fourfold between 1984 and 2007.

Wealth is the difference between the value of assets and the amount of debt. The value of one’s home was not considered because it is essentially illiquid. The gap grew from $20,000 in 1984 to $95,000 23 years later.

The most disturbing aspect of the report is that even middle income white households accumulated $74,000 in the 23-year period compared to only $18,000 for the average high income African American families, a gap of $56,000.

The IASP report was released only on May 17 and will undoubtedly inspire considerable research and analysis, but one finding creates a serious problem that African American leaders must consider now. With limited assets, many black families will be unable to pay for the education of their children, and children of parents with a substantial income may be ineligible for scholarships and sufficient student aid.

Wealth disparity could prove to be an impediment to the college education of moderately well-to-do black families.

Undue influence

The Texas Constitution requires the State Board of Education (BOE) to buy books and distribute them free to all public schools. However, the books are free only if they have been approved by the BOE. Book publishers have to satisfy the requirements of the BOE if they want to be assured of sales.

Texas and California are the largest markets for school texts. In 2003, the Texas book budget was reported to be $570 million. Sales volume of this magnitude gives the BOE substantial influence over the content of all new texts. The recent battle over criteria for new social studies books demonstrates the conflicts that can arise.

The 15-member BOE includes 10 Republicans and five Democrats. On May 21, in a vote along party lines, they approved standards which have been criticized as politically rather than academically derived. According to reports, Thomas Jefferson fell out of favor because of his insistence on the separation of church and state, and Phyllis Schlafly along with other conservatives have been revived as being historically significant.

As one might expect, the role of Mexicans and African Americans in Texas history as well as the significance of slavery have been given short shrift.

Apparently, conservative members of the Texas BOE are insensitive to the legacy of Mexicans and blacks in that state. Celebration of “Juneteenth,” in memory of June 19, 1865, when Texas became the last state to acknowledge the end of slavery, is hardly an ennobling substitute for significant historical inclusion.