The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1965 made great strides toward racial equality. However, this legislation — ending decades of government-sponsored racial oppression and intended to reverse the effects of hundreds of years of slavery — by no means resolved racial inequality in the United States.
Racial differences in the United States are prevalent regardless of geography. While social and economic gaps are wider in some states than in others, the gaps exist across all areas, and we were unable to identify any states where black Americans are better off than white residents. For this reason, we expanded last year’s list of the 10 worst states for black Americans to include all 50 states.
> Pct. residents black:16.8% (10th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 43.7% (13th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 1,962 per 100,000 (12th lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 7.5% (tied – 17th lowest)
In states with poor social and economic outcomes across the board, racial disparities tend to be smaller. Tennessee is one such example. The typical white and black households in the state make $48,218 and $31,071 annually, about a $17,000 difference. Nationwide, the median income for white households is $59,622, roughly $24,000 more than the typical black household. Similarly, the 87.2% of white adults in Tennessee with at least a high school diploma is the fourth smallest percentage of any state, and only three points higher than the 84.7% black educational attainment rate. Nationwide, the racial disparity in high school educational attainment is eight percentage points.
Tennessee does, however, have some of the stricter felony disenfranchisement laws in the country. Nearly one in five of every black Tennesseans is disenfranchised, the fourth highest share nationwide.
Across virtually all social and economic measures, there are wide racial disparities. Compared to white people in the United States, African Americans are considerably less likely to own their homes, twice as likely to be unemployed, nearly three times as likely to live in poverty, and five times more likely to go to prison.
According to Economic Policy Institute Research Associate Richard Rothstein, these disparities are entirely attributable to residential segregation, which in turn is attributable to deliberate, racially conscious, government policies implemented over the course of the 20th century. During this time, the Federal Housing Administration financed thousands of suburban development projects with the explicit requirement that no homes be sold to African Americans.
For Rothstein, the existence of racial segregation today is “a constitutional violation, and it requires a remedy.”
Housing equity is the single largest source of middle class family wealth. The tens of thousands of homes bought by white families in the 50’s and 60’s in many cases have tripled in value. Because this wealth is frequently transmitted from one generation to another, Rothstein explained, economic mobility, especially for black Americans, is extremely limited. The removal of such policies was effectively an empty promise, he added, because very few African Americans could afford to live in the neighborhoods after the equity gains.
Today, 71.0% of white individuals and families own their homes, in stark contrast with the black homeownership rate of 41.2%. In some states, the gap is considerably larger. In North Dakota, fewer than one in 10 black householders own their homes, while more than two in every three white individuals and families own the homes in which they live. The gap between the white and black homeownership rates in Maine, at 72.6% and 13.3%, is even wider.
This troubling ownership disparity speaks to the similarly wide racial wealth gap. Black families in the United States have only 5% as much wealth as white families.
In her widely cited book The New Jim Crow (2010), Ohio State University Professor Michelle Alexander found that there were more African Americans in jails, prisons, or on probation or parole, than there were enslaved in 1850. While the percentage of black Americans imprisoned today is far lower than the share who were enslaved in 1850, African Americans are disproportionately represented in prisons compared to whites.
For every 100,000 black people nationwide, 2,306 are incarcerated, versus just 450 white prisoners per 100,000 white Americans. The black incarceration rate is highest in West Virginia, where 7,360 black residents are in prison for every 100,000 black West Virginians, 11 times the state’s white incarceration rate of 662 per 100,000.
Rothstein attributes this problem also to residential segregation. “Police might profile African Americans in integrated neighborhoods, but you wouldn’t have the occupying force that we have now.” It is this large police presence, he explained, that has led to confrontational and often violent relationships between law enforcement and African American members of these communities, especially young people.
One consequence of segregation is massive funding disparities within school districts, leading to similarly wide educational attainment gaps, which in turn contribute to racial inequality more generally.
Per pupil annual primary and secondary school spending in the United States is approximately $10,700. Schools with predominantly non-white student an estimated $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students, according to a report from the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. According to recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights from the 2013-2014 school year, 11% of black students — versus 5% of white students — attend schools where more than 20% of teachers are in their first year of teaching.
While more than one in every three white adults nationwide has at least a bachelor’s degree, fewer than one in five black adults has a college degree.