A recent Pew Center article contained this graph detailing that in the last 59 years, black unemployment has remained consistently higher than white unemployment.
You’ll notice the Pew Center’s graph begins chronologically with 1954. This seems like an arbitrary date to begin tracking the employment of whites against blacks. But let’s not forget that 1954 marked the de jure (certainly not de facto) end of the Jim Crow era with Brown v. Board of Education. While it is puzzling that the article did not mention this, it is absolutely critical to understand the information that follows.
The systematic transfer of large white populations away from areas containing large black populations can be used to explain the consistently higher unemployment rate of blacks compared to whites.
In 1954, the Supreme Court stated that segregation of students in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because separate facilities are inherently unequal. Consequently, white populations left urban areas, primarily for the suburbs, and the best resources and opportunities followed them. This is commonly referred to as “white flight.” De jure segregation was outlawed but the physical separation of blacks remained through de facto segregation. Schools, housing, businesses, churches, restaurants, and housing are examples of entities that remained segregated after Brown and altered the future of education and employment for whites and blacks.
The Voting Rights Act of 1964 allowed the federal government to enforce voting rights that had previously been denied to blacks by the states. But the same approach was not feasible to create black access to neighborhoods and schools. Since the VRA was passed, Supreme Court decisions on correcting racial disparities have made the issue more difficult. Cases such as Milliken v. Bradley, which invalidated a Detroit-area school desegregation plan, and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007), which invalidated a Seattle school district desegregation plan, are examples. Public schools are just as segregated, if not more so, than they were 40 years ago because the demographic makeup of a school’s population is based on where people live. According to Brown, you cannot have a policy to segregate schools. But if a school district is populated by a majority of whites, segregation would appear to still exist on a de facto level.
So what does this have to do with employment? Education, particularly quality education beginning in elementary school, is tied to success in the future. The earlier students can read well, write well, and conduct basic arithmetic, the better chances they have with finding success in the future. It is no secret that when new families choose an area to reside in, the quality of the public school system is always high on the list of priorities. Areas in the U.S. that have large black populations are typically synonymous with poorly performing students, lack of resources, and scarce opportunities compared areas with large white populations. Ask any person who happens to teach in urban areas and you will likely hear that a multitude of better resources are needed to ensure their students' readiness for the next level. Too many students in these environments progress through grade levels without exposure to necessary material that will set them up for success in high school and acceptance into college. Or worse, they drop out. When it comes to getting a head start on working towards a job to support oneself and eventually a family, the students in these environments are already several steps behind.
In the 19th century, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney expressed the following statement in the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision about the Founding Fathers’ mindset of blacks when crafting the Constitution: “Blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” Although slavery was abolished, progress has been made through the law, and a black man is our commander-in-chief, this de facto segregation that Justice Taney spoke of still exists today and there is plenty of work to be done.