To eliminate affirmative action, [Jesse Jackson has claimed], is to invite the “resegregation” of American life.
Yet consider these unruly facts:
- In 1940, 87 percent of American blacks lived below the poverty line. By 1960, five yearsbefore the Civil Rights acts and 10 years before the first affirmative action policies, the figure was down to 47 percent. That was a greater and more rapid decline than took place over the next 35 years, when the black poverty rate came down to 26 percent.
- In 1940, only 5 percent of black men and 6.4 percent of black women were in middle-class occupations. By 1970, the figures were 22 percent for black men and 36 percent for black women — larger again than the increases that took place in the 20 years after affirmative action was put in place, when the figures reached 32 percent and 59 percent respectively.
These figures come from a massive new scholarly work, “America in Black and White,” by two civil rights veterans, Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, who have reconstructed the history of racial progress and conflict in the postwar era and examined the impact of affirmative action solutions.
Black poverty, the Thernstroms show, has little to do with race, and its solution will not be affected by affirmative action set-asides. Such policies, they assert, have had the net effect not of employing greater numbers of blacks or raising their living standards, but of shifting black employment from small businesses to large corporations and to government. A far more effective anti-poverty program would be to promote black marriages. Currently, for example, 85 percent of poor black children live in fatherless families; the poverty rate for black children without fathers is nearly five times that for black children with two parents.
In higher education, the rate of gain for blacks in college enrollments was greater between 1960 and 1970 (when enrollments increased from 4 percent to 7 percent of the total college population) than it was in the decades after affirmative action was implemented. Enrollments rose from 7 percent to 9.9 percent between 1970 and 1980, and to 10.7 percent between 1980 and 1994. In 1965 — before affirmative action — blacks were only about half as likely to actually graduate college as whites. In 1995, the figure was exactly the same.
In 1995, only 1,764 black students nationwide (1.7 percent of all blacks who took the test) scored as high as 600 on the verbal SATs; the math scores were even worse. By comparison, 64,950 white students (9.6 percent of all whites who took the test) scored 600 or higher on the verbal SATs. But under affirmative-action guidelines, those black students have been recruited by Berkeley, Harvard and similar elite schools, where the average white student (and the average Asian) had scores at least 100 points higher. At Berkeley, the gap is nearly 300 points. Predictably, blacks drop out of Berkeley at nearly three times the rate of whites.
This is but one of the unspoken nightmares of affirmative action.
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