How has the Welfare State Disadvantaged African Americans?


Hi, I’m Drew Halfmann
from UC Davis Sociology. Today, I’ll address
the question: in what ways has the American welfare state
disadvantaged African Americans? I’ll start by talking about a number of
ways in which the welfare state is bad for all disadvantaged groups in
the American welfare state. First of all, I’m talking about women,
Latinos, African Americans. First of all, these groups tend to receive more of their
benefits from means-tested programs. Programs where you have to be below
a certain income level to receive them. And those programs tend to be stingier,
less generous, more stigmatizing than programs that
reach a broader or universal audience. Also, lower earnings in the American
pension system produce lower pensions. So if you have a low-paying job,
you’re going to receive less money from social
security than you would otherwise do. In addition, many benefits in the American
welfare system are provided by employers. These are things like health care,
pensions, et cetera. The employers are not required
to provide these benefits and often, they only provide them
to their high-scale employees. So if you have an excellent job,
you’re likely to have benefits. If you have a crappy job,
you’re less likely to have these benefits. And again, this disproportionately affects
women, Latinos and African Americans. And lastly, is an argument relating to
shorter lives reducing pension benefits. Blacks and whites,
men in particular, white men tend to live about five years longer than black
men after they reach the age of 50. And this means that black
men have fewer years of receiving their pension after they retire. The slide I’m showing now shows
poverty by race, ethnicity and age. The poverty line is $18,000 for
a family of three. And the picture is broken
into three groups. People under 18, people of working age and
people 65 and over. The dark blue is people who are poor. The light blue is people
who are near poor. Near poor is defined as having twice
the amount of the poverty line. And you can see this
graph that Hispanics and Blacks have much higher levels
poverty than do Asians and Whites. And this is especially the case
among the young, among children and among people 65 and over. And you can see that the near
poor rates for blacks and Latinos are almost 60%, so
just tremendous disparities. I want to talk a little
bit about the history of African Americans in the United States and
its implications to the welfare state. So, you know, after slavery there was
a period called reconstruction in which African Americans made
tremendous gains in voting. Blacks had the majority in
the South Carolina legislature, many blacks went to congress. It was a real renaissance in American
life, but it only lasted about ten years. Whites responded with a violent
campaign to end black voting rights, to re-impose a system of slavery by
another name called sharecropping. To establish rules regulating racial
behavior and segregating the races. And destroying voting rights in the South,
really for both blacks and for poor whites. There was also discrimination and
segregation in employment, both North and South in education and
especially in union membership as many blacks migrated to the North at
the time of both World Wars. They were pushed into
ghettos in the North. So you had the creation of these
large ghettos in places like Chicago, Detroit, etc. Indianapolis around 1914. Since the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement brought
an end to sharecropping and Jim Crow. A huge improvement in voting rights, affirmative action policies,
a reduction in occupational segregation. A declining wage gap between blacks and
whites and a growing middle class. At the same time, however, there was an
increasing demonization of poor blacks as criminal or dependent upon welfare. Along with that came a rise in
incarceration, intensive policing and also felon disenfranchisement,
especially in many states in the South. The picture I’m showing you right now
shows the lifetime chance of being sent to prison at current US incarceration rates. For all Americans that chance is at 6%. For men, it’s about 11%. For Latino men, 17% and for
African American men, 32%. Enormous disparities in
incarceration rate potential. I’ll talk now a little bit about
the welfare state in particular and its treatment of African Americans. African Americans were initially
excluded from old-age insurance. FDR needed Southern votes
to pass Social Security. As a result, he ceded to Southern demands
that he exclude domestic workers and farm workers from social security and this
was most African Americans at that time. In addition, most African Americans were
excluded from aid to dependent children because aid to dependent children
was administrated locally. And this allowed Southern providers
to discriminate against blacks. In addition, blacks were excluded
form most employer provided benefits, because both employers and
unions discriminated and blacks were confined to low wage jobs
that did not provide these benefits. Black women were also less likely
to receive Social Security spousal benefits for two reasons. One, they have a lower marriage rate,
okay, so were less likely to receive
the spousal benefit. Second, they had higher labor force
participation, which meant that they were often receiving their own benefit
rather than the spousal benefit. And lastly, as Michael Brown has argued,
the problem was not so much with the welfare state as it was with
the fact that blacks were excluded from American unions and from many occupations
and were forced to accept public relief as one of their “major occupations,”
that’s how Brown puts it. He argues that the main problems in race
relations are not with the welfare state, although there are problems there. But instead with problems in the labor
market, the housing market and in the educational system. One thing I want to talk about that is
directly related to the welfare state is the issue of residential segregation. Redlining is the practice of
drawing a line on a map that argues that certain areas are too
risky to make loans in those areas. And until the 70s, it was accepted
practice within the real estate industry that black areas and areas in transition
were too risky to provide loans. And this practice was also
institutionalized within federal lending programs
the Federal Housing Administration had established during the New Deal. These loans ended up aiding
white suburbanization, leading to the creation of the ghettos and
sustaining the ghettos. There’s a film in this course
that I highly recommend called, “The House You Live In,”
which talks about this issue. One point that’s made in the film
that I think is an important one is that this segregation has lots of negative
consequences, which I’ll talk about. But an important consequence
related to wealth creation. The homes in the white suburbs
were booming and appreciating, so white homeowners were able to benefit from
this massive increase in the price of their home. Meanwhile, homes in black
ghettos were depreciating. Thus, the government, by providing these
Federal Housing Administration guarantees for loans had subsidized massive wealth
creation on the part of whites and, and not on the part of blacks. So the welfare state played a very
important role in this story. I want to talk briefly about some of
the effects of residential segregation. A variety of sociological studies
have examined these issues. One is the idea that
it disconnects people. I should also mention that the United
States has segregation not just by race, but by class. And so
I’m talking in particular about poor, black only areas in many
of the major cities. The argument here is that this can
disconnect people from networks of employed people. It can make it harder to establish good
schools, good churches, playgrounds, child care centers and this makes it
harder for people to raise their kids. People who are segregated have fewer
political allies, which makes it harder to get the public resources they need
to sustain local institutions and also to attract business
investment to their community. Both whites and blacks associate ghettos
with crimes, with housing decay, with falling real estate prices and
so wish to avoid ghettos. There are also weaker social networks and
community organizations in these areas and this can reduce neighbor’s willingness to
supervise young people and increase crime. And lastly, segregation has
enabled the intensive policing and mass incarceration regime
of the last few decades. Thanks for watching.

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