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Mission Matters - October 2023

Why do White Americans have on average 13 times more wealth than African Americans? There have been government policies since the Civil War that have led to this disparity. Bread for the World has documented some of these policies. Last month we talked about the final reason. In review, here are all the policies outlined by Bread for the World.

Andrew Johnson’s Land Policies and Sharecropping - An 1865 federal law rescinded the government’s promise of 40 acres of land for formerly enslaved people so they had to resort to sharecropping.

Land Seizures - From 1865 on, blacks could have their land seized to pay sharecropping debts or simply because white landowners declared that black farmers or businesses were in debt. Blacks could not fight these charges because they were legally prohibited from suing whites in court. In addition, from 1949-1970, one million people lost their land to abuses of the power of eminent domain, which allows local governments to seize private property. About 70 percent of these families were African American.

The National Housing Act of 1934, Part 1 - Policies under this law guaranteed federally backed loans to whites and legally refused loans to blacks and anyone else who chose to live in or near black neighborhoods.

The National Housing Act of 1934, Part 2 - Since this legislation prevented blacks from receiving federally backed home mortgages, whites usually purchased homes in black neighborhoods and then sold “housing contracts” to blacks who wanted to become homeowners, often for two or three times the amount of the mortgage. These contracts only guaranteed black families the rights to the house AFTER all the payments were complete. Missing even one payment, or being late, would result in the black family losing their house immediately.

The Social Security Act - This act excluded farmworkers and domestic workers, who were predominantly black, from receiving old age and unemployment insurance. Although Social Security was meant to help those affected by the Great Depression, and African Americans were twice as likely as the “average” American family to face hunger during this time, 65 percent of African Americans were ineligible to receive Social Security.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 - This was enacted to help bolster the economy and get the country out of the Great Depression, but it excluded tip-based jobs and other jobs predominantly held by black workers, including servers, shoe shiners, domestic workers, and Pullman porters from this first-ever minimum wage legislation.

The G.I. Bill of 1944 - This was enacted to help World War II veterans adjust to civilian life by providing low-cost home mortgages, low-interest business loans, tuition assistance, and unemployment insurance. Black veterans were excluded from many of these benefits.

Overturn of “Separate but Equal” Doctrine - Although the “Separate but Equal” Doctrine was declared unconstitutional in 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education), American schools are more racially segregated today than at any other time in the past four decades. Academic success is less likely in predominately low-income black neighborhoods.

Subprime Loans - Starting in the 1970s and continuing today, the private sector issued subprime loans (loans with higher interest rates) to black families almost exclusively—regardless of a family’s income, education, or good credit history.

The War on Drugs - The War on Drugs, initiated in 1971 and continuing today, widened the racial wealth gap with policies targeting black and brown communities. Although rates of using and selling drugs are comparable across racial lines, blacks are up to 10 times as likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and/or incarcerated for drug violations as whites. This means that black families are up to 10 times as likely to have a family member sent to prison.

Life After Incarceration—Consequences of the War on Drugs – People released from prison face more than 48,000 separate restrictions, known as collateral consequences. Some examples of lifelong penalties include being denied the right to vote in some states, being prohibited from applying to higher-paying jobs, being ineligible to participate in social safety net programs such as SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), and other restrictions, such as being banned from getting a barber’s license. Since blacks are up to 10 times as likely as whites to be stopped, arrested, and sentenced, they are also up to 10 times as likely to face these restrictions.

Employment Discrimination - Although racial discrimination in the workforce was legally abolished in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act, racial discrimination continues among all educational levels and job sectors. For example, blacks are twice as likely not to be called back after they complete job applications or interviews.

Voting Restrictions - As early as 1890, blacks faced organized campaigns to prevent them from voting, including biased “literacy tests,” poll taxes, and lynching. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act passed, making efforts to prevent voting illegal. But today, people returning from jail or prison (who are disproportionately black) are denied the right to vote in many states. In addition, as recently as 2017, states have proposed “Voter ID” laws, which would require voters to have government-issued identification. It is more difficult for African Americans to obtain these—one in four face barriers, compared with one in 10 whites. Barriers include, for example, having to pay up to $150 for an acceptable copy of a birth certificate and Social Security card, travel costs, and time taken off from work.


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