Housing discrimination underpins the staggering wealth gap between blacks and whites

Pedro da Costa Communications Director, EPI

Wealth is a crucially important measure of economic health—it allows families to transfer income earned in the past to meet spending demands in the future, such as by building up savings to finance a child’s college education.

That’s why it’s so alarming to see that, today still, the median white American family has twelve times the wealth that their black counterparts have. And that only begins to tell the story of how deeply racism has defined American economic history.

Enter EPI Distinguished Fellow Richard Rothstein’s widely praised book, “The Color of Law,” which delves into the very tangible but underappreciated root of the problem: systemic, legalized housing discrimination over a period of three decades—starting in the 1940s—prevented black families from having a piece of the American Dream of homeownership.

Over the years, this disparity was compounded by not only ongoing discrimination but also the legacy of prior practices.

“This enormous difference in (wealth) is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century,” says Rothstein as the narrator in animated film about his book, entitled “Segregated by Design.”

Director Mark Lopez uses innovative visual techniques to walk the viewer through Rothstein’s story, and the results are moving and compelling.

“African American families that were prohibited from buying homes in the suburbs in the 1940s and 50s, and even into the 1960s, by the Federal Housing Administration gained none of the equity appreciation that whites gained,” Rothstein says in the short film.

The discrimination happened on several levels—and often culminated in violence against black families trying to move into neighborhoods that had been effectively designated as white by government policy. Sometimes these designations took place quite literally as maps were divided up along racial lines with different colors on the maps. Black neighborhoods were painted red—hence the term “redlining”—which only became illegal after the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

In addition, “state sponsored violence was a means, along with many others, at which all levels of government maintained segregation.”

Rothstein acknowledges that the problem runs so deep that it can never be completely untangled, but also argues that partial reversal are possible and can be encouraged by sound economic and housing policies. It starts with knowing how it happened.

“If we understand the accurate history—that racially segregated patterns in every metropolitan area like St. Louis were created by de jure segregation—racially explicit policy on the part of federal, state, and local governments designed to segregate metropolitan areas, then we can understand we have an unconstitutional residential landscape,” Rothstein says.

“And if it’s unconstitutional, then we have an obligation to remedy it,” he adds. “We must build a national political consensus leading to legislation, a challenging but not impossible task, to develop policies that promote an integrated society.”

Until then, the legacy of racist housing practices will remain a fact of life in most American cities.


Reposted from EPI

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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