Employment Discrimination in the 1980’s: Keynote Address


I am delighted to be here this afternoon and have the opportunity to introduce this very exciting topic to you. My function is to stimulate your thinking on the various issues we will be covering and to survey them for you in some way that will provoke conflict and interest. Let me begin by saying that in my view-and I hope this is not a controversial statement-the most important employment discrimination issue identified by the Kerner Commission in 1968 was the need to eliminate the existence in this country of two separate and unequal societies, one largely black and increasingly female and poor and the other white and substantially more affluent even in today’s hard economic times.

The statistics on the continuing inequality between these two separate societies are depressing. There has been substantial progress over the past two decades in the political arena in the area of education, but there still remain two basic problems: social segregation and economic inequality. Black families currently earn 56% as much as white families. Women earn 59% as much as men. If you look at the poverty figures, over 50% of female heads of families exist in poverty. If those women are under the age of twenty-four, over 60% of them exist in poverty. The number of black families currently at the poverty level totals 35%, up from 31% only a few years ago. This is in sharp contrast to the number of white families at the poverty level: 11%.

Perhaps the statistics that concern us most are the employment figures for blacks, particularly for the black adult male and for the black teenager. The current participation rate of the black adult male in the economy is only 58%. Put differently, over 21% of adult black males are unemployed. This has tremendous adverse implications for the black family and has led to much of its structural breakdown. It of course means that large numbers of black women are working and sharing, or bearing exclusively, the responsibility for child care, and are therefore unable to support their families in a meaningful way. If you are a black child, you have a three times greater chance of being born into poverty. You have twice as much chance of dying in the first year of your life. If you are a black teenager, 50% of you are unemployed. This has led to a permanent underclass of people who have almost no income, few aspirations and little if any hope.

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