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America Fails To Meet Justice Goals 40 Years After Kerner

Over the last 40 years, America has failed to make significant progress on poverty, inequality, racial injustice and crime, according to a report that updates the 1968 report of the Kerner Commission, the bipartisan National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Kerner Commission, convened to respond to a wave of riots that engulfed communities of color from 1963 to 1967, the Eisenhower Foundation published a report to update the commission’s 40-year-old findings. The foundation is a nonprofit group that continues the work of the National Advisory Commission.

The report revealed that 37 million Americans live in poverty and another 46 million Americans are without health insurance. While poverty among African-Americans has declined, poor African-Americans are three times as likely and poor Hispanics twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to live in deep poverty, half below the poverty line. Nearly 44 percent of Black female-headed households with children under 18 were impoverished in 2006.


The Kerner Commission found that unemployment and underemployment were the most prevalent causes of poverty.

Unemployment among Blacks has continued to be twice as high as Whites during each of the four decades since 1968. The employment prospects of the nation’s out-of-school 16-24 year old men have declined considerably since 2000. The problem is especially acute for young African-American men. Among high school dropouts aged 19, only 38 percent of African-Americans were employed compared to 67 percent of Whites.

There continues to be a stark disparity in the wealth gap between Whites and African-Americans. According to the report released Thursday, in terms of wealth, America is the most unequal country in the industrialized world. A recent Brookings Institution study on mobility found that 68 percent of Whites from middle-income families grew up to surpass their parents’ income in real terms. But that share was only 31 percent for middle-income African-Americans, demonstrating downward mobility.

Although students from underrepresented groups have made substantive gains in the realm of education, large disparities remain across the country between the educational achievement of White and Asian American high school students compared to Hispanic and African-American high school students. According to the report, White and Asian students are much more likely to graduate in four years and enroll in a four-year postsecondary institution, whereas Black and Hispanic students are more susceptible to dropping out, receiving low test scores, and are more likely to attend two-year colleges.

After 40 years, minorities continue to be on the opposite side of progress in terms of criminal justice. According to the report, minorities receive longer sentences than Whites for the same crimes. Due to 100-to-1 sentencing laws, sentences for crack cocaine, used disproportionately by minorities, have been much longer than sentences for powder cocaine, used disproportionately by Whites.

The incarceration rate for African-American men in the United States is four times higher than the rate of incarceration of Black men in South Africa during the pre-Nelson Mandela apartheid government. Well over 2 million people are in American prisons and jails. The United States also has the highest reported rate of incarceration in the world, according to the report.

“As we dialogue on these negatives, it [is] important to acknowledge and debate the positive trends,” says Eisenhower Foundation chair Fred Harris, one of the only two that is still living of the original Kerner Commission. “An African-American is running for President, and a Hispanic was a candidate in the early 2008 primaries. Compared to the late 1960s, substantial African-American and Latino middle classes have emerged, the number of minority entrepreneurs has greatly expanded, and there are large numbers of minority local and state elected officials.”

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