Comparing Race And Class As Contributing Factors Of Social Mobility

1419 words - 6 pages

"Everyone believes the face of poverty is black. The white poor blend in, the black poor stand out," suggests social activist Bell Hooks (4). At first glance, Hooks's observation seems statistically relevant: 24.7% of African Americans in the United States were living below poverty level in 2008, compared to 11.2% of whites (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith 14). However, this casual analysis fails to compare the size of the two populations, which balloons the seemingly paltry 11.2% up to nearly 27 million, versus 9 million for blacks (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith 14). As SUNY economist Michael Zweig notes, "The fact that minorities are poor in greater numbers than their share of the total population contributes to the misconception that the face of poverty is black or brown, not white" (88). Regardless of the dominant race in poverty demographics in the United States, 13.2% of the entire population remained below poverty level in 2008 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith 14). Given the decline of upward mobility throughout the past few decades, escaping poverty presents a significant barrier to today's poor. (Scott and Leonhardt 15). A focus on poverty within one particular race obscures this fact, but any discussion of class in the United States should consider social mobility's association with poverty. Examining universal causes of poverty, and not poverty within a single race, can help to more easily understand and combat poverty.
One such culprit of racial focus is former talk radio host Ken Hamblin. In his essay "The Black Avenger," Hamblin decries the "Myth of the Hobbled Black"—Hamblin's term for the notion that African Americans have been so crippled by systemic racism that they need special assistance to succeed financially (287). While Hamblin correctly assumes African Americans do not lack the innate ability to succeed, his refutation ignores the inherent difficulty associated with escaping poverty. He goes on to claim "The white majority has supported legislation that makes the American Dream truly accessible to all black citizens" (Hamblin 290), thus suggesting universal accessibility of the American Dream. Given the lack of social mobility discussed earlier, accessibility to the American Dream does not seem as widespread as Hamblin portrays it. Although Hamblin's ascension from being raised on welfare to hosting a syndicated talk radio show proves that African Americans can succeed (Hamblin 292), his personal success fails to discredit the current difficulty of social advancement for working-class Americans.
Social advancement is not the only difficulty facing working-class Americans. Since 1968, all but the richest twenty percent of the population have seen their share of income shrink. Additionally, erosion of the real wage—a term economists use for wages that have been adjusted for inflation—has deteriorated the buying power of the working class as compared to twenty years ago (Zweig 63). Consequently, the...

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