Patterns and Politics of Large-Scale Poverty

Over the last half-century, since the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, there has been a major retrenchment of efforts to help the poor. Over the last five decades, the poverty rate of the elderly dropped significantly from 37 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2012. Poverty dropped much more modestly for children and the workforce.

In that era, jobs were at the center of efforts to alleviate poverty. Dr. King’s monumental march on Washington on August 28, 1963, was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of the war against poverty, sought to provide work and education for the needy to improve their lives.

Fifty years later, major educational gaps continue to distinguish the poor and non-poor members of the labor force. For example, one-fourth of the poor did not have a high school diploma in 2012 compared to nearly one-tenth of the non-poor. Further, the non-poor are three times more likely to be college graduates than the poor.

According to census public-use data for 1960 and 2012, the poverty rate of the U.S. workforce fell only slightly, from 14 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 2012 — a mere 4 percentage points over 52 years. While the poverty gap between the minority and white workforce narrowed over the last five decades, black and Latino workers are still about 2.5 times more likely than whites to be impoverished today.

In fact, the poverty rate of the black labor force (17.2 percent) and the Latino labor force (16 percent) in 2012 was higher than that of whites (10.6 percent) in 1960.

Even more disturbing is the ballooning of the unemployment gap between the U.S. poor and non-poor workforce. While the poor were about 2.5 times more likely than the non-poor to be without a job in 1960, the unemployment gap increased to more than 4.5 times today. In 2012, 32 percent of the nation’s poor labor force was unemployed compared to 7 percent of the non-poor workforce. It is likely that the unemployment rate is actually higher, especially among the destitute, due to people leaving the labor force after lengthy periods of unsuccessful job searches.

The unemployment gap between the poor and non-poor was particularly wide among whites, where the white poor (30 percent) were five times as likely to be without a job compared to the white non-poor (6 percent) in 2012. Nonetheless, many impoverished people in the country are searching for employment. Indeed, the unemployment rate of the poor varied widely in 2012 from 43 percent among blacks to 30 percent among whites to 26 percent among Latinos.

However, among the poor, it is Latino immigrants who have the lowest unemployment rate (20 percent). This challenges notions that Latino immigrants come to the United States to live off the largesse of social services. In fact, Latino immigrants are more likely to be employed than other workers. In addition, Latino immigrants among the working poor are more likely than other impoverished employees to work longer hours and to hold jobs that are the least rewarded and desired.

Of course, a job does not ensure that the poor get out of poverty. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of the poor who are in the labor force are working. While the portion of U.S. workers who are poor declined from 1960 to 2000, there has been a reversal since. In 2012, about one of every 14 U.S. workers was in poverty. But being among the working poor is especially likely among workers of color. About one of nine black workers is poor, one in 10 native-born Latinos, and one in six Latino immigrants.

A lot has changed since the eve of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. The economy then was one in which manufacturing provided a good living for many Americans who had a high school diploma or less. Over the next few decades, such jobs shifted to the hands of workers abroad who toiled for a mere pittance of the pay of American workers. U.S. labor unions saw a major drop in membership and in bargaining power. The American economy increasingly took the shape of an hourglass where job growth expanded at the highest and lowest levels of the job hierarchy. The middle class progressively shrank.

The latest economic crisis has taken a toll on so many people, many of whom had never been poor before. Many people who are working today are still destitute and still others among the poor are desperately looking for employment. Increasingly, our society consists of a small elite body that controls an expanding share of wealth and income and a growing population of disadvantaged people whose sliver of resources is being whittled down.

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson passionately etched the face of the poor on the American consciousness and forcefully pushed for the establishment of policies to improve the lives of people on the margins. A half-century later, there is a stark absence of political leaders who see the poor as a priority.

Today, Republican-led policies, with relatively little resistance from Democrats, are escalating the war against the poor. Instead of creating opportunities to better the lives of the needy, legislators blame the poor for their dire straits. Congress has slashed food stamp allocations, terminated unemployment payments and thwarted the increase of the minimum wage for people viewed as too powerless to matter.

Over the last half-century, there has not been a more desperate time than today for visionary leaders who boldly push for the establishment of opportunities to improve the lot of our nation’s poor.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.

Observing Racism in Texas: The White Frame Again

I feel frustration and disgust when I hear racial epithets and see stereotyped images of rage thrown at President Obama during the pre-election period. Political cartoons worse than Thomas Nast’s nativist drawings appear almost daily in regional newspapers and on Facebook pages in south Texas. Pictures dominate the Internet depicting him with ape like features and some with huge ears and crossed eyes in awkward positions. Letters to the editor are filled with lies and hate about Obama with pledges to vote him out of office. Racist jokes and snide remarks are repeated in social settings, as well. Full – length ads in newspapers depict him as a socialist enemy and someone who is important to eliminate. What is happening to our society?

The Republican Texas Legislature wants to suppress voting with what Gilberto Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Chairman, says is modern day poll tax and modern day Juan Crow laws and, “Republicans say to the Hispanic Community: Here’s your border wall: show me your papers now: and the dreams of your youth are illegal.” Furthermore, Texas Governor Perry says he will not honor President Obama’s decree opening educational opportunities to thousands of undocumented young people. Hinojosa says what keeps Texas Republicans up late at night is that Hispanic Texans make-up 28% of the eligible voter population, and that percentage keeps growing. And overwhelmingly Hispanic voters vote Democratic. He also points out that in a short time, Texas will change from a red state to a blue state because of these demographic changes.

In the past few weeks, Lubbock has experienced a high level of vandalism targeting Democratic yard signs. Hundreds of Obama signs have either been stolen or marked with the letter N, some wrapped with double chains, others sprayed with mustard or shot. This past week a Hispanic young man waited late at night to capture the vandals on his video camera. A group of young white men saw him and chased him in an attempt to take away his camera. Then he was assaulted. The following is a film of the event captured on camera and released by the police.

Gilberto Hinojosa is appalled at this behavior and says that while sign stealing is not unusual, what has happened in Lubbock is a violent statement and is racism. Racism, “we also saw when an Austin man lynched a chair after the Clint Eastwood talk at the RNC.” It drives voter suppression as does Voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. The Republicans deny that the vandalism and hate crimes are happening. They say the Democrats are doing it themselves. However, it is interesting that last week’s non-partisan AP poll found that 79% of Republicans harbor racist views, compared to 32% Democrats.

Voter suppression is happening in other southern states. Is it a coincidence that the same red states are those that were confederate states 150 years ago? In these same states, Jim Crow laws and violence prevented minorities from voting until 1965 when Congress passed The Voting Rights Act. Now Republican state governments are pushing to rescind the Voting Rights Act, they say is no longer relevant. However, George W. Bush enthusiastically approved its renewal a few years ago. Why are Republicans now against it?

Considering the AP poll above which points out that negative racial attitudes have failed to improve the past few years and could manifest in policy we definitely should renew The voting Rights Act (1965). To understand why this is happening and we continue to see racism in this society, we need to look at the history of the “White Racial Frame.”

The “White Racial Frame,” according to Joe Feagin, is the manner in which whites view themselves, and was firmly set with the founding of this country. With the history of American slavery it’s become “systemic racism,” Feagin reveals. First centered on African Americans, the oppression by the dominant white hierarchy continues to use racial stereotypes, metaphors and images of other people of color, as well. The purpose is to stir emotions that create prejudice and bigoted discrimination so whites can remain on top of the hierarchy. Today, with the demographics favoring the Hispanic population, propagation of discrimination is occurring toward the Hispanics. The AP poll found that 52% non-Hispanic whites had anti-Hispanic attitudes and with the threat of whites becoming a new minority racism will not go away anytime soon. It’s happening in Texas and it is very disturbing to Republicans. To understand better “The White Racial Frame,” please refer to Joe Feagin’s article.

Education as a Community Resource for People of Color

American schools are failing so many students, especially people of color as shown in the documentary Waiting for Superman Latinos comprise 14 percent of the U.S. populations,asts put Latinos at 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. America is an increasingly multicultural society. How well America welcomes people who are from distinct racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds will in large part determine just how democratic America remains.

And Some I Wish I'd Never Seen At All, Plate 2
Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk

If Americans fail to accept the largest ethnic and racial group in the country then not only is it critical to ask how well America is living up to its ideals, but most importantly, the issue becomes, as political scientist García Bedolla states: “whether our democracy is creating a more just society.” This is an important point because democracy does not necessarily equal justice, so we may have a democratic society that is far from just for many, particularly for minorities.

Latinos are greatly underrepresented in professional occupations, comprising only three to four percent of engineers, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and elementary and high school teachers. According to Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff, as of August 2010, there are only fifteen Latino CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, and most of these fifteen come from elite immigrant families. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report

Some 41% of Hispanic adults age 20 and older in the United States do not have a regular high school diploma, compared with 23% of black adults and 14% of white adults.

Improving educational levels for Latinos are important for three main reasons: (1) the strength of our democracy depends on a well-educated and committed citizenry. Because Latinos are an increasing part of society, it is important to our country that Latinos be full and equal members of it. (2) The ability to be able to live and achieve the most you can in your life begins with being able to pursue the training and education needed to do so. Personal fulfillment and economic security are critically connected to educational access. (3) The benefits of increasing educational levels among Latinos are not only important for you but for future generations as well. Education is key in improving the quality of life in Latino communities and for society.

As Cesar Chávez said in 1984:

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

Education is key to improving the quality of life in Latino communities for generations. Educational opportunities for successive generations only works because others have paved the way. For example, in Passing the Torch, Attewell and Lavin study the impact of higher education on the next generation of “non-traditional” students, (mostly poor and minority) who attended the eighteen-campus City University of New York, which guaranteed enrollment to New York City high school graduates beginning in the 1970s. Attewell and Lavin convincingly document that the “democratization of public higher education….is the first step up the ladder of social mobility, and…generates an upward mobility” for the children of college educated mothers.

Education is a vital community resource for people of color.

Latinos Account for Half of US Population Growth 2000-2010



The Pew Hispanic Center has a new (pdf) report that makes use of US census sources to estimate the huge role that Latino population growth played in the overall US population growth over the last decade, growth that the final Census figures will show and that will be used for congressional seat reapportionment:

Using 2009 population estimates from the American Community Survey, Hispanics accounted for 51% of the nation’s population growth since the 2000 Census, which counted 281 million U.S. residents. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew 9.7%. From 2000 to 2009 (the last year available), the Hispanic population grew 37%.

Since southwestern states with fast growing and ever larger Latino populations will get numerous new congressional seats from this census, it is likely that some of them will be substantially composed of Latino voters. Given that Republicans have regularly alienated Latinos with their anti-immigrant and nativistic rhetoric, these will eventually be very blue political areas — even red areas like Texas right now.

The official US population count for 2010 is 308.7 million people.

Texas’s Racist Textbook Standards: Challenged by NAACP and LULAC



Texas NAACP/LULAC groups have filed a major complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, asking them to investigate the new Texas State Board of Education Texas Curriculum Standards:

The Texas NAACP, Texas LULAC and Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education (TABPHE) are holding a press conference, with partnering groups to announce the filing of a request for a proactive review by the U.S. Department of Education and its Civil rights division. The request addresses many aspects of discrimination against minority public school students in Texas, including recent changes to history and educational standards in social studies. Texas State NAACP President and National Board Member Gary Bledsoe said, “Education remains the most critical element in the long term economic and social interests of all American citizens. Reasonable people of good will must guarantee that all students, regardless of race or economic circumstances, be given the tools needed to become successful in a rapidly changing global economy. We must also be held to a high standard of accuracy in conveying historical events to students who will use this information to compete for educational access not only in Texas, but increasingly around the country and world. We must not allow the use of our compulsory education system to misinform and negatively impact the academic capacity of our most important natural resource – our children. Our action today seeks on objective review of the partisan attack on the public education system in the State of Texas.”

State LULAC President Joey Cardenas said, “We were shocked at the actions by the State Board of Education in emasculating our history. It is necessary for our own well-being and that of the people of our State that we do all that we can to ensure that what they have done does not end up being a reality. Our State and nation will suffer from what they have done and emotionally and psychologically it will greatly harm our young people. Dr. Rod Fluker of TABPHE said that one of the things we are most worried about is how this will impact teachers and the kinds of attitudes it will bring to our next generation of young people to move into this field. This is a serious problem.” Bledsoe said that one thing we are looking for is to invalidate the standards so that they do not become a reality. “This is like a criminal assault. The message is that you have no worth. We cannot let this become official policy.” Cardenas added that “we have engaged the State in litigation before and will do so again if necessary. “

In challenging the Standards, the Texas NAACP wishes to applaud State Board of Education Members Lawrence Allen and Mavis Knight for supporting us in this initiative. Dr. Felicia Scott of TABPHE said that it is important to note that the most offensive items were opposed by all 5 minority Board members who voted as a block, “that really says something about how offensive these matters are, and this is from a purely academic and humanistic perspective with no injection of politics.”

A Houston Chronicle report provides information on why the complaint has been filed:

A school curriculum teaching children about violent Black Panthers while playing down Ku Klux Klan violence against blacks is not only inaccurate but discriminatory, the Texas NAACP and LULAC said Monday in a joint complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint asks the department’s Office of Civil Rights to review Texas’ new social studies curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education and to take legal action if the state tries to implement the standards the groups call “racially or ethnically offensive,” as well as historically inaccurate. The new standards also balance the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and attempt to point out positive aspects of slavery.

The Chronicle story adds some other important points:

A review of the new social studies curriculum standards by historians and college professors indicates that 83 percent of the required historical figures and notable persons for students to study are white. Only 16 percent are African American or Latino. Minority groups, including state legislators, warned the 15-member State Board of Education throughout the curriculum standards process that it was shortchanging the achievements of minorities. Of the 4.8 million children attending Texas public schools last year, 66 percent were minorities. Whites make up two-thirds of the State Board of Education.

The complaint to OCR statement has generated considerable debate and discussion in the Texas media.

Just recently, Professor Kevin Michael Foster, a graduate faculty member in the Departments of African and African Diaspora Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Administration, at the University of Texas at Austin added these savvy comments (he gave me permission to reprint this email sent to those working with NAACP/LULAC) on the problems of teaching our best high school students who know little, or are miseducated about, U.S. and Texas history:

On the tail of the complaint to the Dept of Ed’s OCR, I can’t help but again express my thorough frustration with the social studies knowledge (and dispositions) among the Texas-taught undergraduate students I work with at UT Austin. Encouraged by Board Member Knight’s interest in what is taught elsewhere, I’d also like to think about multiple strategies — a program of activities — to see to the good sense education of Texas school children regardless of the “standards” that we end up with.

. . . . My general experience is that the miseducation of high achieving students in Texas is thorough — not simply that they have been undereducated, but that they have been and are systematically miseducated in the sense used by Carter G. Woodson. Black and non-black, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, huge numbers across demographic groups doubt the intelligence and worth of non-whites as students as UT. It is especially painful to see Black and Brown kids who finished in the top ten percent of their high school classes yet come to UT with doubts about their own intelligence and worth. They have been taught the glories of The Alamo and Texas Independence with no context to bring out (for instance) the historic role of the slavery issue in the region. In defiance of the historical record and decades of historical analyses, they are taught that the Civil War was about “state’s rights” and not really about slavery (as if in this context those two were separable). They are taught that Affirmative Action is among the greatest unfairnesses today — a red herring of the first order — especially for settings like UT, where the only meaningful affirmative action that takes place is for student athletes (and in a context where even there it is not done with adherence to the spirit of the original concept).

By contrast, and to Board member Knight’s query, in my youth I was required to read Souls of Black Folk (Du Bois), Up From Slavery (BTW), The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Why We Can’t Wait (MLK), The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman (Gaines), Mules and Men (Zora Hurston), large chunks of The New Negro (Alain Locke, ed) and other texts. During most of those years I lived on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and was expected to know who this important and great woman was as well. Much of my reading was required in school. That which was not required by the school was required by my father and nurtured by my (former schoolteacher & guidance counselor) grandmother. Today we still need both forces — what the approved curriculum standards require and what we as a community require in addition.

As I raise my 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter, I perceive a profound need for a war on multiple fronts. One front is that of the specific Texas Curriculum Standards. And even here, while there is a need for straight on attack (e.g. “complaints” to OCR), there is also space for battle on the flanks (for instance cataloging and publicly rebutting the problems with the standards and providing parents with talking points for conversations with teachers and principals as they ensure that their children aren’t fully subject to the brainwash education).

Another space for action is to actively create and disseminate a supplemental curriculum, one specifically aimed at correcting for the anticipated (and realized) negative consequences of students (of all backgrounds) being taught histories that validate the indefensible, that force classroom discussion into ridiculous directions, and that undermine true knowledge of self and history among African American students, Latino students and others who find their well-informed understandings (or even nascent yet accurate understandings) of themselves and their world under assault. To take just one example,what if students were expected to read and consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin, easily one of the most important books in U.S. History, gigantically influential in its time, for the longest time second in sales only to the Bible, and a text that raises the paradox of having emancipatory goals while simultaneously cementing damaging stereotypes. There is so much to work with in this highly readable text — for history, for literature, for critical thinking — and yet most students have not read it.

In this sad state of affairs I am sure of at least two things: 1) We must act to alter inaccurate standards; and 2) we must in the meantime produce and disseminate viable supplements to counter the damage that the inaccurate standards are doing in the meantime. For those whose official capacities allow it, proaction should not be seen as an option but rather as a responsibility.

Because Texas has this central selection of textbooks process, publishers often adapt their textbooks used across the country to these biased and racialized Texas standards. So these reactionary decisions affect children and others in many other states. As George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Mapping Slavery’s Extent: 1860 Demographic Map



Susan Schulten, University of Denver history professor, has an interesting piece in the New York Times (online) on the last map prepared of the U.S. enslaved population (1860). Here is a small version of the map:

This map was prepared by the Coastal Survey from 1860 census data, and the source is “Map Courtesy of Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.” You can see Schulten’s very useful interactive and larger-annotated map here. This should be useful for classes dealing with the background and demography of slavery just at the beginning of the Civil War.

Schulten makes some interesting points about the map:

The map reaffirmed the belief of many in the Union that secession was driven not by a notion of “state rights,” but by the defense of a labor system. . . . the map measured each state’s slave population, and contemporaries would have immediately noticed that this corresponded closely to the order of secession. South Carolina, which led the rebellion, was one of two states which enslaved a majority of its population. . . . the map [also] illustrated the degree to which entire regions—like eastern Tennessee and western Virginia—were virtually devoid of slavery, and thus potential sources of resistance to secession.

President Abraham Lincoln loved the map (as did many in the Union’s public) and apparently used it in his own planning and thinking about the Civil War. It likely supported his

belief that secession was animated by a minority and could be reversed if Southern Unionists were given sufficient time and support. . . . The map gave a clear picture of what the Union was up against, and allowed Northerners to follow the progress of the war and the liberation of slave populations.

She points out that this map enabled Lincoln to focus on a key feature of the secessionist states—their slavery system of labor. For the views of those enslaved in this system of labor see the first part of this book.

Anti-Immigrant Nativism Growing in Germany

It is not just the U.S. that is seeing a significant increase in anti-immigrant sentiment in the middle of this worldwide capitalistic recession. Agence France Presse has a story about the German chancellor’s moving to more of an aggressive anti-Islamic-immigrant stance:

Germany’s attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely, Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend, calling on the country’s immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values. Merkel weighed in for the first time in a blistering debate sparked by a central bank board member saying the country was being made “more stupid” by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants.

This right-winger resigned his bank position but his anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim views and book are popular in Germany, which is the country that helped accelerate modern racism under Hitler and his crew -– and where German Jewish scholar Magnus Hirschfeld actually coined the modern term “racism” for the anti-Semitic oppression of his day (the 1930s).

According to the French press story,

“Multikulti”, the concept that “we are now living side by side and are happy about it,” does not work, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam near Berlin.

So the concept of multicultural pluralism is under even more open pressure from those who want more aggressive one-way assimilation to white-Christian-centrism in Germany. The contradictions in Merkel’s view are also clear in this article:

While warning against “immigration that weighs down on our social system”, Merkel said Germany needed specialists from overseas to keep the pace of its economic development.

Apparently, many German leaders are not aware that the mostly hardworking immigrants from Muslim countries are among the workers who can help bail out Germany from its falling and aging population problems over the next few decades.

Latino Population Growth and the Arizona Nativism



Texas A&M University social demographer and sociologist Rogelio Saenz has some revealing statistical data in his recent Population Reference Bureau piece titled “Latinos, Whites, and the Shifting Demography of Arizona”: He first notes the dramatic growth in the population of Arizona, bringing the state up to near seven million people today as now the 14th-largest U.S. state. Among these

Latinos accounted for two-fifths of the nearly 3.8 million people added to the state’s population between 1980 and 2008…. The share of Arizona’s growth due to Latinos has grown significantly across the last three decades while the growth due to whites has declined…. The percentage of Arizonans who are Latino increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, the share of the state’s population that is white declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2008.

He also provides this striking chart, which has major political-economic implications:

As he points out about this chart,

Whites account for over half of the state’s population ages 35 and older and make up at least 80 percent of those in elderly age categories. . . . In contrast, Latinos outnumber whites in the two youngest age groups (0 to 4 and 5 to 9). While the median age of the white population is 43, it is only 26 among Latinos.

This racial-age polarization has significant implications. A majority of active voters and political activists now are still white, while the population that will eventually be that majority of voters and activists is not white, indeed is very substantially Latino. Many Arizona whites have also been the ones so aggressively seeking SB1070-type legislation to reduce the (already significantly declining because of the Bush depression) number of Latinos in the state, with some of them supporting violence against these immigrants in the form of armed groups patrolling the border.

One of the sad ironies in all this is that most of the Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, in Arizona actually do much work for whites, to make their middle class lives (houses, restaurants, etc) more affordable and thus to buttress white middle-class affluence. One has to wonder who will do much of this hard and dirty work in Arizona if the immigrants are driven out.

Saenz also notes certain critical larger national and international “boxes” within which the Mexican immigration has taken place:

The families of many Latinos in the state have been there for generations. Furthermore, globalization, the expansion of economies across international borders, and the aging of the populations of developed countries all stimulate the movement of people into places such as Arizona.

New Poll on Immigration: Whites versus Latinos



An NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll was just released, and reveals what they term a huge “racial divide” between Latinos and white Americans. (Here is the full pdf on the survey.) First they note an overall finding on Arizona’s law:

In the poll, 61 percent say they favor Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law, which would require local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect a person is in the country illegally.

And, in effect, it requires the police to do racial profiling (how else do you have reason to suspect ordinary citizens, in most cases?) The law also allows citizens to sue the police for not enforcing the law vigorously. So many police chiefs are opposed to such legislation. Then there is the big poll finding:

A divide among white and Latino respondents: 70 percent of whites support the law, versus just 31 percent of Latinos. In fact, 58 percent of Latinos say they strongly oppose it. That’s not the only chasm between White and Latino America. While 68 percent of Latinos believe that immigration strengthens the United States, just 43 percent of whites think that.

It is odd that so many whites do not “get it.” Denigrating, targeting, and racializing Latino immigrants is not even in their longterm interest. Who does much of the “dirty work” and service work that greatly undergirds the lifestyle of 41Krhlnz4lL._SL500_AA300_Middle Class America? Without all these younger folks, that is, the hardworking immigrant workers from Mexico, Central America, and Asia, the U.S. would be heading for an extremely serious demographic decline in the next few decades (as in much of Europe already). That would mean means fewer workers—thus, fewer people to do the work of society and pay most of the taxes, including for the social security payments of retiring (mostly white) baby boomers.

The pundits and pollsters, of course, focus on the political implications of the poll:

… the survey suggests that Republicans could get an immediate political boost, but may face a long-term problem among Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group. “Are there areas where the Republicans can make short-term gains? Yes,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart…. “But the fear is that they have long-term losses.” What’s more, 37 percent of whites view the Republican Party favorably, while just 22 percent of Latinos have a favorable impression of the GOP.

So, it looks like the “white political party,” the Republican party, has decided again to alienate most all voters of color. One thing they seem to be forgetting too is that another very fast growing group of color is also heavily composed of immigrants—Asian Americans. I have not seen any discussion or poll of Asian Americans on these issues, but I think it is fairly safe to think they are not happy either with the many extremist attacks targeting hardworking immigrant workers these days. What do you think?

History of Racial Classification in the US Census: 1790-2010

Every census from 1790 to the present has recognized the racial or color category of “white.” But there has been interesting variation over time in how census enumeration methods have placed people in this category. There also are interesting variations in how the data for whites are reported. The following are some selected points of interest I think are worth noting. (For more detail on these points, I list two sources I drew on at the end; they may be helpful for getting started.) While the census has alway recognized the race or color category of “white”, here are a few variations over time that I am aware of and that may be interesting to some:

1. Early censuses 1790-1820 had no instructions or set categories for how to enumerate “color” and there were no formal “schedules” or “forms” on which enumerators were required to list color. Enumerators used their own judgment about listing color in their records with no guidelines from the census. When the data were coded and tabulated, persons were treated as white by default if no other specific color was provided.

2. 1830 brought the first form in which there was a specific place for enumerators to list color. Still no guidelines from the census on how to enumerate people on color.

3. 1890 was the first census in which “white” was not the default coding if race was not mentioned in enumerator records (1790-1820) or was left blank on the form (1830-1880). In this census, white had to be specified on the form.

4. 1790-1950 the census enumerators made the judgment on color. Starting in 1960, the respondent made the judgment.

One interesting trend here is how Hispanics have ultimate been classified on race after 1950. The census instructions are clear that most persons of Hispanic background should be coded white under census coding guidelines. Through 1950, census enumerators followed those instructions. In the transition to self report, Hispanic respondents sometimes disregarded the census instructions and classified themselves as something other than white. The rate of doing so jumped sharply in 1970 and by 1980 exceeded 50%. It has stayed that high since.

This caused an appreciable drop in the white population in the Southwestern states from what it would have been had census practices of 1950 been continued.

5. Around the decades of high immigration — 1880-1930 – distinctions among whites were of great concern. Consequently, tabulations for whites were regularly broken out by native and foreign born due to the concerns about differences among native whites and new immigrants of the era. That practice was discontinued after 1940.

So, the word “white” has remained a constant. But how people are assigned to the category and how those data are reported has varied quite a bit over time.

Mark Fossett, Texas A&M University

For further information and other sources relating to these issues, see the following works.

Reynolds Farley. 1970. The Growth of the Black Population. Markham.

Joel Perlmann and Mary C. Waters (eds.). 2002. “The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Indivuals. Russell Sage Foundation.