Since the birth of the United States, using the disenfranchised as the primary labor force has been the go-to method for growing and maintaining the economy. Since colonists came to the “New World,” they have used “impure” races to do hard labor and built the world that we live in today off the backs of blacks and American Indians. Even as the country has grown and put into place laws that give non-whites the same rights as whites, the white, privileged rich have always found ways to get around them. The privileged upper-class say that in order to elevate ourselves, we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps like they did, but meritocracy is a myth. At every turn, there have been roadblocks set up to prevent non-whites from gaining half of the success that whites receive.
Some say that poverty exists because a “permissive welfare state has generated a large group of nonparticipants, marginal people, [and] bums” (Blakely and Goldsmith 4). The idea that poverty is a result of people being lazy is a dangerous one, as it allows people to excuse institutional racism as being a figment of one’s imagination. Particularly those who benefit from white privilege do not feel the effects of institutionalized racism and can say that they earned their status on their own. In addition, they believe that because there are middle to upper-class people of color, we live in a post-racial society where anybody can achieve affluence through hard work.
The unofficial tagline of the United States is that it is a land of opportunity, and if you work hard, you will be rich and have everything you ever dreamed of. Education is seen to be the most important part of this idea of meritocracy. If individuals do well in school and pursue a degree in a field that guarantees a high income, then they are guaranteed to become rich. However, although we assume in this day and age that all schools are equal, they are truly not. Public schools in low-income neighborhoods have very little funding and resources, and as a result, students are left with a sub-par education compared to their more privileged counterparts. Public school funding is affected by local property taxes, and property values of neighborhoods have, historically, been influenced by the racial makeup of the neighborhood (Wooldridge; Squires).
Higher education is a key determinant of upward social and economic mobility, but therein lies the problem. Many low-income students require financial aid from the government to attend college, but the government has been focusing more on student loans, tax breaks, and state subsidies, which do not benefit the poor anymore than the rich. Moreover, Wooldridge states that colleges are now using financial aid packages to entice students to choose their school over others. There are affirmative action programs, but these are under scrutiny and many wish to get rid of them. What about legacies, however? Children of alumni receive preference, similar to the idea of...