On the other hand, proportionally higher percentages of minority groups such as blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans live in poverty than their counterparts. Historical Poverty Tables from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in the past decade the percentage of whites and Asians in poverty linger around 10%, while the percentage of blacks and Hispanics living in poverty far exceeds 20% (U.S. Census Bureau 1-6). As of 2004, Texas A&M reports that the rate of unemployment for African Americans is 10.3% and 7.4% for Hispanics, whereas unemployment for whites is 4.0% (Texas A&M). In addition the high school drop out rate for whites is 7.9%, almost double at 13.6 percent for blacks, and almost three-fold for Hispanics at 27.5% (U.S Dept. of Education). There continues to be a substantial discrepancy between educational and employment achievement between whites and blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.
To understand why, we must recognize that there exists an important distinction between problems faced by women and racial/ethnic minorities. The difference lies in what family, members of these two groups are born into. Since women are born into a wide range of economic classes, they are not burdened with the task of changing their socio-economic position in society; changing attitudes towards women has been the main concern.
On the other hand, even if society’s attitudes towards disadvantaged ethnic/racial groups change, the relationship of these groups with class is a complicating factor. As statistics show, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are more likely to be born into poorer families, and poor communities, usually comprised of people of color, suffer disproportionately. Being poor limits higher education opportunities, connections with the right people, and can even force people to live polluted, unsafe communities (Montague). It’s difficult for a person or family to change his/their economic status or position, which limits the strides and achievements that can be made by subsequent generations.International Comparison: Gender and race inequality are not limited to the US. Analyzing how other nations dealt with the problem and whether their solutions were effective or not can give us clues to what might work in the US and what probably won’t. In the dilemma over choosing between competing social inequities, the cases of India and France play an interesting contrast. Both countries have what would be considered, vibrant democracies and a free press, but tellingly, they have chosen to tackle the issues of settling gender and ethnic/racial inequality in markedly different ways. In India, after independence in 1947, “ethnic and racial minorities quickly received guaranteed seats in all political assemblies” (Krook 2), as this was seen as the largest source for potential unrest and inequity for the nascent nation. However, the bold move to preferentially incorporate ethnic and racial minorities into the political, educational and economic spheres of India society had led to a relative disregard for gender inequality. The main reason has been primarily due to lingering questions about how to resolve caste and tribal quotas with reserved seats for women. After the 1971 census revealed that only a small number of women had occupied positions of political power over the previous twenty years, however, the government began to view women’s under-representation as a problem. (Krook 9) But both the focus and idea of affirmative action has been quite distinct in India, with ethnic and racial rights being the focus of the program and its choice for preferential policy, including the extensive use of quotas, as the means. In contrast, in France, gender has been recognized as an issue deserving greater representation in politics, to the exclusion of other groups, because advocates have framed gender as a characteristic that crosses all other groups making it the universal and primary source of inequity. (Krook 2) And in a sense, it could be argued that the idea of men and women, transcend any human inequalities; through its solution, there may be a gradual resolution of other outstanding concerns. This view allows for a quasi-preferential outlook towards gender inequality but not with racial and ethnic inequality. This may have to do with the fact that women of the dominant ethnic and racial groups in France suffer from gender-based exclusion while racial and ethnic inequality only affects French minorities. The views in France reflect a general European outlook towards racial and gender inequality. That outlook rests upon the idea that racial and ethnic inequality, if officially unrecognized, would slowly disappear. Public Opinion: Polls conducted by Gallup (1385 adults nationwide; whites, blacks and Hispanics), NBC/Wall Street Journal and CNN/Gallup/USA Today (1027 adults nationwide) showed that the support for affirmative action is between 49%-54%.(Gallup 2003) Whereas some polls show a decrease of about 3% in support in a period of 8 years, other polls show an increase of about 3% in 4yrs (all of these polls were conducted around the same time period;1995-2003). (NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll 2003) As this information suggests, there public doesn’t overwhelmingly support or oppose affirmative action. Support and opposition rates tend to vary depending on how the question was asked. An Associated Press poll conducted in 2003 asked 1013 adults nationwide whether affirmative action was needed to help blacks and Hispanics overcome discrimination nowadays: 51% said it was needed while 43% said it wasn’t. In the same poll, 59% said we are not too close (35%) and not close at all (24%) to ending discrimination. Although there isn’t a clear majority that supports the affirmative action policy, there is a clear majority that believes discrimination is far from being over and that the government should do something to end it. An interesting fact about the distribution of support of affirmative action is how the rates vary for different groups of people. Whereas the overall support for affirmative action is in the 49-54% rate, 70% of blacks and 63% of Hispanics favor it. (Gallup 2003). The same poll asked blacks, Hispanics and whites whether merit should be the only factor that determines admission into a university, or if an applicant’s racial and ethnic background should also be taken into account. 75% of whites said only merit should be considered; whereas 44% of blacks, and 59% of Hispanics said only merit should be considered. (Gallup 2003) Merit is clearly considered a major element in the admissions or hiring process, but racial and ethnic minorities place a greater emphasis on continuing affirmative action policies. On the issue of gender, overall, more men are opposed to affirmative action than women, with the noticeable exception being liberal men (22%) vis-à-vis liberal women (27%). (The Gallup Poll, “Gender Differences” 3) Furthermore, more men (over 54%) than women (under 47%) believe that women have equal job opportunities. ( “Gender Differences…” 5). And when blacks and whites were asked, “do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs in industry for women, provided that there are no rigid quotas?”, 68.2% of whites were in favor, while 85.9% of blacks were in favor. (Odum Inst.) We can get a sense that women and disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups, in this case blacks, have a greater awareness of gender inequality. Alternatives to Affirmative Action: Some, who favor affirmative action but worry that it might not survive the current public attack that is going on, propose alternative to the policy. Out of this group, some suggest programs that would help people from disadvantaged backgrounds regardless of their race or sex. For example, since blacks suffer high rates of poverty, they would be a fair candidate for the help offered by such programs, which could be economic in nature. A drawback of this proposition is that it would be difficult to determine which individuals are truly disadvantaged. A second drawback of this alternative is that although it would treat the symptoms of inequality, it wouldn’t tackle the source. (Bergman 1996) A second alternative to affirmative action is enforcing laws against discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives about 63,000 complaints of employment discrimination every year, yet it only brings about 500 cases to trial. Although this alternative might work to reduce discrimination if it were to work effectively, it also wouldn’t address the source. (Bergman 1996) Policy Recommendation: Though affirmative action may cause feelings of race-consciousness, convey a sense of contradictory aims, allow for expansive governmental power, challenge our values on merit and individualism, and establishes a quota system, its continuation seems to be a practically sound path. The reasons in favor of affirmative action are clear. In a broad sense, historical, psychological and social discrimination exists alongside structural problems leading to unintentional exclusionary policies. Specifically, affirmative action has been seen, positively, to help frame minority progress and achievement in context of obstacles faced by these groups, increase diversity within institutions and organizations, improve the relationship between socio-economic position and opportunity, and institute a dynamic system that is not “quota-based” as opponents would argue. Alternatives to affirmative action can arguably reduce racial tension and provide some economic relief to disadvantaged people. We strongly suggest staying away from these alternatives since they don’t address the source of discrimination. We also suggest the implementation of complementary programs to affirmative actions. These would include testing programs, whereby carefully matched pairs of individuals of different races or genders apply to the same job. This would serve as an indication of where unequal treatment might be taking place, proving to be useful if it were used in conjunction with affirmative action. (B.R. Bergmann). We are quite confident in recommending affirmative action as a wise policy; with specific concern for gender and racial/ethnic groups, we believe that the emphasis should be placed on ameliorating the situation of racial/ethnic groups over the condition of women. The current status and near-term trends show that women are increasingly better off than they were in the past, and that a change in attitudes has catalyzed this societal transformation. Additionally, international perspectives show us that the French model of viewing inequality through the prism of gender, as the overarching determinant of humankind, would not work in a nation such as the U.S., which is far more open to accepting the identities of minorities as important contributors of the overall diversity of the country. On the contrary, racial/ethnic groups face a far more challenging prospect for their futures. The current status of blacks, Latinos and Native Americas is considerably worse than their white and Asian counterparts, economically and education-wise. There seems to be little prospect of this situation changing with out external intervention, as class is intimately linked to race and ethnicity in the U.S. Additionally, the model of India, which shares some of the U.S focus on unity with diversity, as opposed to unity at the expense of diversity, seem to be more relevant to the U.S situation, in that affirmative action policies aimed at ethnic/racial minorities are a more pressing issue than women’s rights, especially with the current trends in women’s education and employment. Finally, based on the above presented evidence and public opinion, we conclude that affirmative action is both politically viable and justified by public opinion the government should actively reduce inequality. Educating the public and providing an accurate description of the program will serve to clarify misconceptions about the policy and thus reduce the number of those who oppose it based on these wrong assumptions. 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“Odum Institute for Research in Social Science” Survey Information—Affirmative Action