FLORIDA — As Florida prepares to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in remembrance of the country’s most celebrated civil rights leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at just 35 years old, the personal website WalletHub decided to take a lot at how states have progressed when it comes to racial equality.
According to WalletHub’s 2022’s States with the Most Racial Progress, Florida has made a great deal of progress since King was assassinated by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Florida is ranked fifth in the nation for the most racial progress.
To measure America’s progress in harmonizing racial groups, WalletHub brought together six professors and assistant professors from Clemson University, the University of Virginia, the University of South Alabama, Manhattanville College, Minnesota State University and Boston University.
They measured the gaps between Black people and white people across 21 key indicators of equality and integration, ranging from median annual household income to standardized-test scores to voter turnout.
The report also looked at high-profile police-brutality incidents that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
When the data was totaled, Florida ranked:
- 3rd – Change in median annual household income gap
- 13th – Change in homeownership rate gap
- 6th – Change in poverty rate gap
- 5th – Change in gap in the percentage of adults (age 25 years and older) with at least a high school diploma
- 24th – Change in gap in the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree
- 2nd – Change in standardized-test scores gap
- 17th – Change in voter-turnout gap (based on the 2020 presidential election)
“Racial wealth gaps reflect the cumulative effect of discrimination over generations,” said Sonal Pandya, associate professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. “Among other things, inherited wealth helps fund households’ investments in education and purchases such as real estate that accrue value over time. Inherited wealth also provides a safety net against financial uncertainties, and supports high-risk-high reward endeavors like starting a new business.”
“The major causes of the racial wealth gap in the U.S. are the prevalence of racial discrimination and lack of opportunity. Even though African Americans have more opportunities to earn wealth today than ever before, they are still often locked out of the wealth multiplier,” said Abel A. Bartley, professor in the Department of History at Clemson University. “Few African Americans are homeowners. The largest difference between Blacks and whites in wealth is homeownership. African Americans were not permitted to get government-backed loans for years and, therefore, could not build wealth through homeownership
“The second wealth multiplier is education. African Americans continue to lag behind whites in education,” Bartley said. “Often the worse schools are located in African American communities. This leads to high dropout rates and a shortcutting of African American wealth streams. There should be more investment in African American education.”
Lu Wendy Yan, assistant professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Minnesota State University said there are actions that state and local authorities can take to reduce racial gaps in wealth, employment and education.
“State and local authorities must make intentional, strategical and productive policies and programs to reduce wealth inequality,” Yan said. “Inheritance and estate tax reform would be a good start; more tax savings for businesses that are in inner-city neighborhoods can stimulate more employment opportunities; closing the achievement gaps between African American and white students and increasing the college graduation rate for African American students would help break the cycle of poverty.”
“Policies that target specific racial barriers encountered by racial communities will be most effective,” said Hephzibah V. Strmic-pawl, associate professor of sociology at Manhattanville College.
“For example, the barriers that face low-income Latinx families, Black families and Asian families often have distinct characteristics based on facets such as immigration status, language accessibility and neighborhood opportunities (or the lack thereof),” Strmic-pawl said. “Policies need to be developed in relationship with communities and based on what they say their needs are.”
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