Faded Dreams: The Politics and Economics of Race in America

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In Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion over Four Centuries University Press of Kansas, , Southern Methodist University Political Scientist Cal Jillson explored the origins of this cherished American ideal and the modern impediments to achieving it and recommended ways to keep it alive in the 21 st century.

But rather than being rejuvenated over the past decade, doubts about the American Dream have only deepened. On waves of white angst over social change and middle and working class despair over lost jobs and deteriorating incomes, Donald Trump swept to victory promising to make America great again. Jillson demonstrates that the American dream touted by our political leaders and their elite supporters have always been challenged, even rejected, by our literary elites.

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Our great presidents, from Jefferson and Lincoln, through the Roosevelts to Reagan and Obama, have touted America as a land of opportunity, open increasingly to the striving of all of its citizens. We find that the past thirty years of public policy has done little to address racial economic disparities. If the current trends continue, the racial economic divide will be immense in across a wide variety of indicators. Progress toward economic parity between Black and White is slow and inconsistent and, in some cases, inequality is increasing.

Latinos who account for most of the growth of the population are, in most cases, experiencing a decrease in economic well being relative to Whites. If the current trends continue:. Income: Black and Latino median incomes will be 61 cents 45 cents, respectively, for every dollar of median White income in Blacks will have gained only 4 cents while Latinos will have lost 15 cents of median income relative to Whites from to Poverty: In , poverty rates among Blacks By , the Black and Latino poverty rates will remain 1.

Jobs: The current unemployment rates stand at 7. In , Black and Latino unemployment will be 1. Wealth: By , Blacks and Latinos will both have lost ground in average wealth, holding only 19 cents and 25 cents for each dollar of White wealth. The average net worth of Black and Latino families in was 20 cents and 27 cents, respectively, for every dollar of White net worth. Higher Education: Black adults were 60 percent as likely to have a college degree as White adults in , while Latino adults were only 42 percent as likely as Whites to have a college degree. By , Black will be 76 percent as likely as Whites to have earned a college degree; Latinos will have become even less likely 37 percent than Whites to have a college degree.

Progress, interrupted

Incarceration: In , Blacks were a staggering 6. Latinos were 2. In , Blacks will still be six times and Latinos two times as likely as Whites to be incarcerated. It does not have to be this way. Public policy does not have to follow the course that it has been on since Reagan.

Privatizing Education

The growing share of the non-White population presents an opportunity for Blacks and Latinos to build political power. In the current era of extraordinary economic inequality, the fate of the vast majority of the White population is more connected with the economic interests of Blacks and Latinos than with the ruling political elite. Shifting from the dominant conservative public policy direction of the last thirty years that has not addressed racial equality will require a broad coalition dedicated to eliminating the racial economic divide.


We need policy solutions that will significantly reduce the racial divide. Foreclosure relief, federal aid to states and targeted job creation programs are needed to both combat the economic slump and to reduce racial economic disparities. Longer-term strategies including wealth-building programs, increasing taxes on the rich, strengthening safety net programs, ending the war on drugs, and humane immigration reform are needed in order to substantially reduce the racial inequality.

The racial economic divide is the legacy of centuries of White supremacy practiced as national policy.

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  7. As a nation, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. If we do not change course, our economy will not be able to bear the swelling numbers of Blacks and Latinos out of work, in poverty and in prison. There is not a great deal that politicians can do about the collapse of the black family, but school and prison reforms should help: black women, unsurprisingly, prefer partners who are neither ill-educated nor incarcerated. Role models help, too: Mr Obama inspires young black men partly because he has a wife and daughters he patently treasures and respects.

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