Occupied With Inequality

Day 9 Occupy Wall Street September 25 2011 Sha...

While hundreds of people occupy Wall Street, calling on the 99% to stand up against the 1%, inequality has become the new buzzword.  But is income and wealth inequality only a recent issue, unique to a small group of 20-somethings in the 2000’s?  Of course not, economic injustice and inequality of opportunity have plagued the United States, and especially the African-American community, since its founding.  However, a slow-to-thaw recession and diminishing opportunities for work have motivated a different population to mobilize against the economic injustices they are only now beginning to feel.

While incomes have generally risen in the United States in the past decades, incomes for African-Americans have risen at a slower rate than their white counterparts. This income disparity carries into future generations, as parents struggle to provide proper housing, food, healthcare and education for their children.  Hiring discrimination persists as African-Americans tend be chosen less often for the same jobs than do European Americans or Caucasians.  Income inequality then is the cumulative result of a series of factors, that begin with the inability to obtain higher paying jobs and the forced segregation of low-income housing.

Unrelenting income inequality has not been the result of overt, institutionalized oppression or segregation, but rather, is caused by more subtle forces that begin with minor prejudices and take shape in discriminatory lending, redlining, skewed school district lines and many other socioeconomic factors.

As depicted in the chart of median personal income by race and education from the 2006 Census and the graph published by the U.S. Census Bureau on Median Household Income across race, the average incomes of African-Americans are consistently less than white Americans, even at levels of higher education, and decades after the Civil Rights movement.

Race

Median personal income

Overall Median

High school graduate

Some college

Bachelor’s degree or higher

Bachelor’s degree

Masters degree

 Adv.

degrees

White M $40,432 $33,805 $40,427 $61,175 $55,129 $67,903 $77,818
F $26,636 $21,306 $25,190 $40,161 $36,076 $45,555 $56,759
Both $32,919 $27,291 $31,510 $49,879 $43,841 $52,244 $71,184
Black M $30,549 $25,747 $32,758 $46,474 $41,889 $52,488 N/A
F $25,435 $20,366 $25,574 $42,461 $41,263 $45,830 N/A
Both $27,110 $22,328 $27,589 $44,460 $41,565 $47,407 $61,993

Income inequality in the United States is an old story, especially for African-Americans.  So, why organize now?  And who are the occupiers down in Zuccotti Park?

With one tenth of the population unemployed, and far more underemployed, with growing foreclosures, looming personal debt and little promise that change is on the horizon, there is a conviction among many that, perhaps, they have been slighted: enter “The Occupiers”.

Zuccotti Park finds itself teeming with primarily young people, who are primarily white.  They represent a group of people who have grown up believing that a college education, which they obtained without much obstruction, would secure them some financial stability and even a job after graduation.  Feeling duped by society’s promise, they see exorbitant bonuses for CEOs and the big bank bailouts as unjust in the face of their plight.

In many ways, lower Manhattan’s Occupy Wall Street is about the economic injustices that a young population of people has only begun to experience.  Meanwhile, the African-American community has been party to a more pervasive inequality for decades.  The income gap as displayed in the graph above points to the consistent income inequality that African American’s have felt, with no trend suggesting that this gap will soon close.

So it seemed inevitable that an Occupy Harlem would sprout up, as it did on Friday October 28, 2011, at St. Phillip’s Church in Central Harlem.  While the Occupy Harlem borrows from the “blueprint” of Occupy Wall Street grievances, it addresses, more specifically, the historic plight of inequality for African-Americans.  In addition to income inequality and corporate power, Occupy Harlem will bring into dialogue contemporary humanitarian issues in Africa as well as local issues of discrimination such as the “Stop and Frisk” policy that deeply concerns the Harlem community.

Beyond exercising the rights of free speech and organization through Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Harlem, it is imperative to break the cycle of inequality by providing mentoring programs for the inner city’s youth.  Especially important are the programs that work to build entrepreneurial skills among disconnected youth.

As young community members gain a foothold by building their own successful businesses, they foster employment in the community, provide a stable local source of income for community members, and become role models themselves, all the while, working toward bridging the overwhelming inequality gap with which we are so occupied today.

As the occupiers in Zuccotti Park remind us, it is the younger generation that must stand up and demand change, because they are the ones who stand to benefit most from a more just, less impoverished society.  Whether through education, entrepreneurship or social action, the city’s youth must step up and work together to gain their foothold in society!

To learn more about Re:LIFE’s upcoming event in Harlem: Click EMPOWER’D

 
 By Amy Richards
Re:LIFE Inc Writer
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3 Comments

Filed under Education, Entrepreneurship, Minority Issues, Re:LIFE Inc, ReLIFE, Youth, Youth Development, Youth Empowerment

3 responses to “Occupied With Inequality

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