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"Needed: A Focus on the Intersection of Race and Poverty,"

by Peter Edelman November/December 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

I don't see how President Clinton can say he is pursuing a completely serious initiative on race relations if he doesn't ask his Advisory Board to focus on the intersection between race and poverty. It is of course true that there are important racial issues to be addressed in every area and at every level of the economy and society. But with poverty among African-Americans and Latinos consistently at three times the level of poverty among whites, the issue of the impact of discrimination in producing that disparity cries out for attention.

The concentrated poverty of our inner cities is one critical aspect of this. In 1990 there were nearly 11 million people living in census tracts that were over 40% poor, about four times the number of the concentrated poor two decades earlier, and they were over-whelmingly African-American and Latino. This racial isolation is not accidental. People of color are not trapped the way they were in the 1960s, to be sure. Those with the economic wherewithal to move do so in large numbers. But the isolation of those who remain represents a destructive concatenation of race and poverty. It is devastating in its negative synergy, and it has been getting steadily worse for 25 years. It is not merely a question of economics. It demands attention in a serious con-versation about race.

Another pervasive problem is employment discrimination against young people of color. I know from my work with the Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington in the early 1990s that young people of color, especially young people without postsecondary education, face pervasive discrimination when they try to get started in the job market. This is not to say that African-American, Latino and other minority college and professional graduates have an easy time, but the more race is mixed with the economics of the lower end of the labor market, the more powerful the negatives become. Yet this question of what happens to young people looking for their first job is not on any policy scope anywhere. Testing by simulated applicants is a proven way of ferreting it out. Yet the use of such testing is not official policy of any relevant public agenda anywhere, to my knowledge. These are not issues of affirmative action. They represent plain old garden variety race discrimination. They should be high on the list of anyone who wants to look at race issues.

Peter Edelman is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and served as an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health & Human Services in the first Clinton Administration.

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