By: Laura Ungar
March 31, 2014
"If we don't ensure or sustain economic success for young people of color, we are creating a house of cards that will fall." David R. Williams, Harvard professor
For every dollar of income a white household earns, an African-American household earns only 63 cents - and the gap is even starker when it comes to wealth.
"For every dollar of wealth that whites have, blacks and Latinos have only six pennies," Harvard University professor David R. Williams told more than 50 people Sunday at the Muhammad Ali Center, where he spoke about racial inequities that shape our lives, businesses and society.
The talk was presented by Louisville's "Healing Possible Quorum," a group of 100 adults who meet monthly to study such issues as income, employment, health and education with a goal of proposing polices to reduce structural and institutional racism.
Such issues resonate locally and nationally. President Barack Obama has recently raised the issue of income inequality in global discussions, and Anneta Arno, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness' Center for Health Equity, said studying the issues fits into the city's philosophy of "health in all policies," with a definition of health that reaches into all aspects of life.
Williams said significant inequities persist in health and quality of life. At the same time, he said, minority populations represent a growing portion of American society. In fact, he said, the United States will become a "majority minority" nation in 2043. And by 2060, 57 percent of Americans will be minorities, compared with 37 percent in 2012.
"If we don't ensure or sustain economic success for young people of color, we are creating a house of cards that will fall," said Williams, a professor of public health, African and African-American studies and sociology.
Williams said disconnected youth - those not in school or jobs - represent a great cost to society. Studies have shown that each disconnected 16-year-old costs taxpayers $258,040 over his or her lifetime, which covers such expenses as incarceration and government services.
"Their success is integrally linked to our success in retirement and our success in older age," Williams said.
He said the racial wealth gap has actually widened in recent years. In 2000, he said, black and Latino Americans had 10 cents of wealth for every dollar a white American had, but the economic downturn hit minority residents harder.
Williams said discrimination is also a factor. He cited a study in which two black men and two white men with identical resumes sought jobs in person. One man from each race said he had served a prison sentence. The study found that the white man with the criminal record was more likely to get a call back (17 percent) than the black man without a record (14 percent).
Williams said discrimination also extends to health care. In one study, actors of various races portrayed patients who used the same language to describe identical cardiovascular symptoms. The black patients were less likely to get appropriate cardiac catheterization treatment. Williams said many studies looking at other conditions have reached similar findings.
Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness, said economics and medical care are closely linked. For example, she said, if a woman in a low-wage, hourly job gets cancer, she loses money every time she has to take off work for chemotherapy, while a higher-income woman in a salaried job still gets a paycheck.
Overall, Williams said, a white 25-year-old can expect to live about 53 more years on average, while a black 25-year-old can expect to live 48 more years - so inequity actually leads to shorter lives.