="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 0 512 512">

Chapter 9: Race and Ethnicity

9.6 Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the United States

One of the best ways to begin to understand racial and ethnic inequality in the United States is to read firsthand accounts by such great writers as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Piri Thomas, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X, all of whom wrote moving, autobiographical accounts of the bigotry and discrimination they faced in their lives.

Statistics also give a picture of racial and ethnic inequality in the United States. We can begin to get a picture of this inequality by examining racial and ethnic differences in such life chances as income, education, and health. Table 9.5 “Selected Indicators of Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the United States, 2020” presents data on some of these differences.

Table 9.5 Selected Indicators of Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the United States, 2020*

White American

African American

Latinx American

Asian American

Native American

Median Household Income

$74,912

$45,870

$55,321

$94,903

$49,906

% over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or more

41.3

27.9

20.8

61.7

19.7

% in poverty

8.2

19.5

17.0

8.1

23.0

Infant Mortality Rate, 2019

4.49

10.62

5.03

3.38

7.87

*Data for 2020, unless otherwise noted.

Source: Shrider, Emily A., Melissa Kollar, Frances Chen, and Jessica Semega, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-273, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC, September 2021. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2021/demo/p60-273.html; Source: NCES -U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_104.10.asp; Source: Ely, D. M. and A. K. , Driscoll, Infant mortality in the United States, 2019: Data from the period linked birth/infant death file. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol. 70 no. 14. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:111053. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infant-health.htm; Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Profile: American Indian/Alaskan Native, 23 Nov. 2021. Retrieved from: https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=3&lvlid=62.

The data are clear: U.S. racial and ethnic groups differ dramatically in their life chances. Compared to white and Asian Americans, for example, African Americans, Latinx Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have much lower family incomes and much higher rates of poverty; they are also much less likely to have college degrees. In addition, African Americans and Native Americans have higher infant mortality rates: African American infants, for example, are almost twice as likely as white infants to die. These comparisons obscure some differences within some of the groups just mentioned. Among Latinx Americans, for example, Cuban Americans have fared better overall, while Puerto Ricans and Central Americans have fared worse. Similarly, among Asian Americans, people with Chinese, Japanese and Indian backgrounds have fared better than those from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

image of Asian American family on vacation

Asian Americans have higher family incomes than whites on the average. Although Asian Americans are often viewed as a “model minority,” some Asians have been less able than others to achieve economic success, and stereotypes and discrimination against remain serious problems. LindaDee2006 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Although Table 9.5 “Selected Indicators of Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the United States” shows clear patterns between groups, it also presents a more complex picture when considering minority status in the U.S. Asian Americans have minority status in the U.S., even though their economic, health and educational indicators indicate a higher level of well-being than all other groups, including the dominant racial-ethnic group – white Americans. At the same time, stereotypes of Asian Americans and discrimination against them, including a significant spike in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in 2020-21, remain serious problems (Chou & Feagin, 2008; Fong, 2007). Even the overall success rate of Asian Americans obscures the fact that their occupations and incomes are often lower than would be expected from their educational attainment and they have to work harder for their success (Hurh & Kim, 1999).

.

Watch and Reflect

The following is a link to a short video that discusses the importance of home ownership in accumulating generational wealth. Race: The House We Live In

After watching the video, explain some of the policies spotlighted in the video and how they contributed to our current state of racial inequalities and discrimination.

.

Explaining Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Why does racial and ethnic inequality exist? Why do African Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, and some Asian Americans fare worse than whites? In answering these questions, many people have some very strong opinions.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, longstanding explanations have focused on the dominant group’s beliefs in biological or cultural inferiority of minority groups. The idea that minorities are naturally less intelligent or otherwise biologically inferior, or that cultural deficiencies, including a failure to value hard work, have served to account for social inequalities. As discussed, geneticists have found no evidence for the biological view of race and many social scientists find little or no evidence of cultural problems in minority communities and say that the belief in cultural deficiencies is an example of cultural racism that blames the victim. Social scientists, such as Elijah Anderson (1999) have found that where problematic behavior or attitudes exist, they arise as a result of segregation, extreme poverty and other challenges these citizens face in their daily lives. Thus, cultural problems arise out of structural problems, rather than the reverse (Griffiths, et. al, 2015).

A structural explanation for U.S. racial and ethnic inequality is based on the conflict perspective. This view attributes racial and ethnic inequality to institutional and individual discrimination and a lack of opportunity in education and other spheres of life (Feagin, 2006). Segregated housing, for example, prevents African Americans from escaping the inner city and from moving to areas with greater employment opportunities. Employment discrimination keeps the salaries of people of color much lower than they would be otherwise. The schools that many children of color attend every day are typically overcrowded and underfunded. As these problems continue from one generation to the next, it becomes very difficult for people already at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder to climb up it because of their race and ethnicity.

.

Think Like a Sociologist

Watch the following short video racial inequality and social mobility: Rethinking Race

What are some of the factors associated with growing up in a low-income community that result in limited social mobility?

What are the findings associated with the Moving to Opportunity Experiment, and what does Raj Chetty say is ultimately the solution that will have an impact on poverty in the U.S.?

Which of the three explanations (biological, cultural or structural) provided above most align with the findings presented in the film?

 



Section 9.6 References

Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. 

Chou, R. S., & J. R. Feagin. (2008). The myth of the model minority: Asian Americans facing racism. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. 

Ely, D. M. and A. K. Driscoll.  (2021, December 8).  Infant mortality in the United States, 2019: Data from the period linked birth/infant death file. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  National Vital Statistics Reports; vol. 70 no. 14. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:111053. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infant-health.htm.

Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systematic racism: A theory of oppression. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Fong, T. P. (2007). The contemporary Asian American experience: Beyond the model minority (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 

Hurh, W. M., & Kim, K. C. (1999). The “success” image of Asian Americans: Its validity, and its practical and theoretical implications. In C. G. Ellison & W. A. Martin (Eds.), Race and ethnic relations in the United States (pp. 115–122). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury. 

National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_104.10.asp.

Shrider, E. A., M. Kollar, F. Chen and J. Semega.  (2021, September 21). U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-273, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2021/demo/p60-273.html.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Profile: American Indian/Alaskan Native, 23 Nov. 2021. Retrieved from: https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=3&lvlid=62.

All Rights Reserved Content

California Newsreel.   (2010, September 24).  Race the house we live in. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/mW764dXEI_8.

PBS News Hour.   (2015, September 2). How disadvantaged neighborhoods amplify racial inequality. PBS. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/rethinking-race.

CC licensed content, Shared previously and Adapted

Barr, Scott, Sarah Hoiland, Shailaja Menon, Cathay Matresse, Florencia Silverira and Rebecca Vonderhaar.  (n.d.).  Introduction to Sociology. Introduction to Sociology | Simple Book Production. Lumen Learning.  License: CC BY 4.0. License Terms:  Access for free at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/.

Conerly, Tonja, Kathleen Holmes, Asha Lal Tamang, Jennifer Hensley, Jennifer L. Trost, Pamela Alcasey, Kate McGonigal, Heather Griffiths, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Tommy Sadler, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones. (2021).  Introduction to Sociology 3E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-3e/pages/1-introduction.

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Stayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones.  (2015).  Introduction to Sociology 2E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-2e/pages/1-introduction-to-sociology.

Saylor Foundation.  (2015). Social Problems: Continuity and Change. License:  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_social-problems-continuity-and-change/.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Exploring Our Social World: The Story of Us by Jean M. Ramirez, Suzanne Latham, Rudy G. Hernandez, and Alicia E. Juskewycz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

css.php