Third World In America: Color of Wealth

by Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Did you know that for every dollar owned by the average white family in the United States, the average family of color has less than a dime? All the authors argue that people of color have been barred by laws and by discrimination from participating in government wealth-building programs that have benefited white Americans.

“The latest issue relating to the immigration debate around undocumented immigrants is only the latest example of the government hindering people of color,” said co-author Barbara Robles. “Latinos are being blocked from making a living for their families.”

The authors argue that these disparities between the races have been happening since America’s birth, when white Revolutionary War veterans were paid by the government with nine million acres of land stolen from Native Americans. In 1841 it was made legal for whites to take over Indian land by squatting on it. The US government sent the Army out to the western part of the country to beat back Native Americans from land coveted by white settlers. Land ownership was limited to citizens and citizenship was only permitted to whites throughout the 1800s. This policy not only affected many Native Americans and Latinos, but also newly arrived Chinese Americans. One in four white Americans have an ancestor who was given Indian or Mexican land under the Homestead Act of 1862.

“Native Americans have a different concept of land from the government,” said Meizhu Lui, executive director of United for a Fair Economy. “The land is their life line. The transfer of the land from Native Americans to whites is what caused and still causes their poverty today.”

It is widely known that the federal government allowed some states to enable whites to profit from slave labor. However after slavery most people didn’t know that freed slaves were promised “40 acres and a mule,” but the government went back on their promise and gave southern land to white Union veterans instead. Very few people also know that during the New Deal, the federal government gave industrial workers (almost all white) minimum wages, union rights, and Social Security, but denied them to agricultural and domestic occupations held by most people of color.

“The GI Bill was set up to be accessible only to whites,” said co-author Betsy Leondar-Wright. “Because of this a whole generation of African Americans are supporting their parents and grandparents instead of saving up for their own retirement.”

Despite the gains of affirmative actions plans during the civil rights era, people of color are still falling behind because of the lack of wealth not income. In a recent study by economist Thomas Shapiro, in a comparison between a white and black family with the same income, the white family is far more likely to receive money from their families, in the form of a down payment, college tuition or inheritance. The federal government invested in infrastructure to expand surburbs where only whites were welcome, and subsidizing mortgages in the suburbs while redlining the inner city.

“Welfare reform went into effect in 1997, childcare and transportation assistance have been much more likely to go to white welfare leavers; unpaid ‘workfare’ has been far more common for welfare leavers of color,” said Leondar-Wright in a press statement. “The Bush tax cuts have been much more generous for people with substantial income from investments (disproportionately white) than to working people and IRS audits have tended to befall low-wage workers taking the Earned Income Tax Credit (disproportionately people of color).

Leondar-Wright and Lui suggest that these wrongs can be corrected. They say that when the government invests in the middle class it actually works.

“What worked for the first 200 years for white men can now work for people of color today,” said Leondar-Wright.


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