We need more government, not less, in the war on poverty

tags: poverty

Mehrsa Baradaran is the J. Alton Hosch associate professor of law at the University of Georgia School of Law and author of "The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap."

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the black community owned less than 1 percent of the United States’ total wealth.

More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged.

The racial wealth gap is a direct result of centuries of racist government policies — slavery, Jim Crow, housing segregation and credit policies. Even once those programs ended, not a single federal government program has tried to close the racial wealth gap. Most have perpetuated it.

The GOP tax plan is the latest addition to the litany of policies exacerbating this problem. Worse, a few Republicans have tried to justify the bill by using a tired but trusty script of blaming the poor for their own hardship. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch recently repackaged President Ronald Reagan’s infamous, racially coded welfare queen trope: “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.”

Actually, Hatch has it exactly backward. It’s the federal government that has failed to lift a finger, expecting black communities to do everything to close the wealth chasm. This practice has left black communities trapped in poverty while white politicians pat themselves on the back for taking ineffectual half-measures whose main virtue is their acceptability to white constituents.

After the Civil War and emancipation, black communities, businessmen and individuals began actively trying to build wealth and credit under hostile conditions. First there was the Freedman’s Savings Bank, which collected millions of dollars in wages from freed blacks hoping to use their savings to buy land. But the white management of the bank speculated away the deposits on railroad bonds. Half the money disappeared because the federal government did not properly oversee the bank or protect the deposits. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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