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29.3.03

The Christian Science Monitor has an update of Justice Thurgood Marshall's 1978 report card on the state of black America. Marshall wrote the report card as part of his dissenting opinion in the Bakke case that outlawed quota-based affirmative action. The updated report card is pretty depressing:

  • In 1978, the life expectancy of a black child was five years shorter than that of a white child. Today it is six years shorter.


  • Twenty-five years ago, a black child's mother was three times as likely to die of complications during childbirth as a white mother. Today she is 3-1/2 times as likely to die during childbirth.


  • The infant mortality rate for blacks was twice that for whites. Today it is slightly more than twice.


  • In 1978, four times as many black families lived with incomes below the poverty line as white families. Today, that ratio remains unchanged.


  • For black adults, the unemployment rate was twice that of whites, and for black teens it was three times. Today, both statistics remain unchanged.


  • The median income of a black family in 1978 was 60 percent of the median income of a white family. Today, it is 66 percent of white-family income.


  • In 1978, blacks represented 11.5 percent of the population, but they were only 1.2 percent of the lawyers and judges, 2 percent of the physicians, 2.3 percent of the dentists, 1.1 percent of the engineers, and 2.6 percent of college and university professors. Today, blacks represent 12.3 percent of the population, and are 5.1 percent of the lawyers and judges, 5.6 percent of physicians, 4.1 percent of dentists, 5.5 percent of engineers, and 6.1 percent of college and university professors.


The subtext of the story seems to be pro-Marshall, as the updated report card shows that anti-quota arguments claiming that racial equality could be achieved without quotas haven't worked out (though no report card could challenge the additional argument that, effective or not, quotas are morally wrong). But I find that there's an interesting pattern among the items on the report card. The two areas where there has been noticeable progress -- income and representation in selected professions -- are the two areas that affirmative action of any stripe would impact. But progress in those areas has not translated into progress in areas like infant mortality or life expectancy. So failure in those areas does not necessarily say anything about the failure of non-quota strategies for achieving racial equality.

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