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DWASARI: America's racial inequities stem from educational shortfalls

Column: Cut the Bull

America's racial economic disparities became worse during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. But the roots of the inequalities can be traced to public education. – Photo by iStock

On Jan. 6, we all saw the pro-President Donald J. Trump mob storm the Capitol without any resistance from police officers. We all saw them taking selfies with law enforcement, replacing American flags with Trump banners, raiding congresspersons’ offices and demanding the election be overturned amid unsupported claims of voter fraud. 

We all saw the double standard in security when it came to a congregation of predominantly white Americans versus ones with mainly of people of color. We all saw the clear image of minorities in America being treated differently than white Americans. Yet, we all have not paid much attention to the worsening economic well-being of these Americans.

As we all remember, in March 2020 the pandemic caused immediate shutdowns and shifted many schools to a completely virtual environment for an indefinite period of time. The lifestyle change was indeed a slight inconvenience for me, but it brought immeasurable troubles to people of color.

With companies unable to operate in an in-person fashion, millions of employees were fired or furloughed. Among them, Black and Latinx Americans suffered immensely worse than white Americans.

While white men and women's unemployment rate initially increased to 10.7 percent and 13.1 percent, Black men and women saw unemployment rates skyrocket to 15.5 percent and 16.5 percent and Latinx men and women saw unemployment rates soar to 15.1 percent and 19.0 percent, respectively.

The main reason for their worse conditions: household economic status. People of color's occupations were more likely to have caused severe economic or health insecurity than white Americans. At first glance, it would seem as if this was a problem society could not have made better. In reality, the government is why minorities have faced the brunt of the pandemic's blows.

There are several areas where the government has not developed equal standards across races, but differences in education opportunities across races personally explain economic inequality.

For most high-paying and skill-based jobs, certain levels of education are prerequisites. Most jobs have a minimum education level of an undergraduate degree, and many of these students will obtain it based on their high school education.

Consequently, the K-12 education system should be the cornerstone for allowing real economic mobility to occur, but it is not. With the system favoring white Americans over people of color, it is no surprise the average white family's net worth is $189,100 compared to $36,000 and $24,100 for Latinx and Black families, respectively. 

Many of America's schools are racially concentrated school systems. Approximately 26 percent of students are enrolled in majority-white districts, while 27 percent are enrolled in majority-nonwhite districts.

Only 20 percent of students attend a primarily nonwhite and poor school, while five percent attend a mostly white and poor school. Along the same analysis of schools based on race, predominantly nonwhite schools typically have more than 10,000 students — three times the average — while predominantly white schools typically have 1,500 students.

With much greater students and financial needs, we would expect nonwhite school districts to gain more funding. That simple, logical expectation is not our reality, as nonwhite school districts receive $2,226 less per student than white school districts.

Although there are no conclusive studies to fully support the notion, we can confidently say that nonwhite school districts have a student to teacher ratio greater than America's average of 16:1.

But, studies show that poor students, concentrated among people of color, have three times the financial need than regular students. 

Many poor people — regardless of race — struggle to incorporate education into their lifestyle due to their imminent financial needs. Their parents are likely making a minimum wage salary and urge them to enter the workforce as soon as they are old enough. Going to school and spending several hours at a fast food joint or local grocery store will wear down a student.

There is no time for the student to get involved with extracurricular activities or even adequately study for their tests. Amid all of this common knowledge, the American government gives these groups of people less money than the affluent society.

We have continued to shelter and protect the prosperity of wealthy, white America, while we have allowed poor, nonwhite Americans to suffer against insurmountable obstacles to obtain a high school degree. In order to create sizable change in the racial demographics' income and net-worth, our nation must take accountability for the institutionally racist struggles that people of color in our country face. 

An excellent place to start would be to allow for school choice. The K-12 education system will take a while to restructure to what it should be, but the immediate enactment of school choice will let those who reside in weaker and poorer school districts to get an education in more opportune school districts. Subsequently, people of color will be the greatest beneficiary of the policy.

Akhil Dwasari is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in finance and minoring in political science. His column, "Cut the Bull," runs on alternate Wednesdays. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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