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Inequality persists 50 years after landmark Kerner Commission report

Free Press wire reports | 3/1/2018, 1:11 a.m.
Barriers to equality are posing threats to democracy in the United States as the country remains segregated along racial lines ...

Free Press wire report

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Barriers to equality are posing threats to democracy in the United States as the country remains segregated along racial lines and child poverty worsens, according to a study examining the nation 50 years after the release of the landmark 1968 Kerner Report.

The new report released Tuesday blames U.S. policymakers and elected officials, saying they’re not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality as highlighted by the Kerner Commission a half-century ago. The report also lists a number of areas where the country has seen “a lack of or reversal of progress.”

“Racial and ethnic inequality is growing worse. We’re resegregating our housing and schools again,” said former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris of Oklahoma, a co-editor of the new report and last surviving member of the original Kerner Commission created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. “There are far more people who are poor now than was true 50 years ago. Inequality of income is worse.”

The new study, titled “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report,” states the percentage of people living in deep poverty — less than half of the federal poverty level — has increased since 1975. About 46 percent of people living in poverty in 2016 were classified as living in deep poverty — 16 percentage points higher than in 1975.

And although there has been progress for Hispanic homeownership since the Kerner Commission, the homeownership gap has widened for African-Americans, the report found. Three decades after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed, black homeownership rose by almost 6 percentage points. But those gains were wiped out from 2000 to 2015, when black homeownership fell 6 percentage points, the report states.

The report blames the black homeownership declines on the disproportionate effect the subprime crisis had on African-American families.

In addition, gains to end school segregation were reversed because of a lack of court oversight and housing discrimination. The court oversight allowed school districts to move away from desegregation plans and housing discrimination forced black and Latino families to move into largely minority neighborhoods.

In 1988, for example, about 44 percent of black students went to majority-white schools nationally. Only 20 percent of black students do so today, the report states.

The result of these gaps means that people of color and those struggling with poverty are confined to poor areas with inadequate housing, underfunded schools and law enforcement that views those residents with suspicion, the report states.

Those facts are bad for the whole country, and communities have a moral responsibility to address them now, said Mr. Harris, who now lives in Corrales, N.M.

The new report calls on the federal government and states to push for more spending on early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage by 2024. It also demands more regulatory oversight over mortgage leaders to prevent predatory lending, community policing that works with nonprofits in minority neighborhoods and more job training programs in an era of automation and emerging technologies.