What kind of community burdens the least advantaged? What kind of community makes those that are already suffering the most suffer more? The answer is one that is extremely shortsighted—one that neither focuses on justice nor on the next generation. According to a new report by the Washington Community Action Network called, “The Color of Cuts: The Disproportionate Impact of Budget Cuts on Communities of Color in Washington State”, the state of Washington, where one in five residents is a person of color and one in ten residents is an immigrant, is one of these communities. The report argues that state budget cuts will have a disproportionately negative affect on people of color in a state that already has significant racial disparities. Some of the indicators of current racial disparities highlighted in the report include the following:
According to the Education Trust and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Washington State is ranked in the bottom-five of all states when it comes to closing the racial and ethnic achievement gap. At its current pace it will take 45 to 50 years to close the gap between students of color and their White counterparts.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in the fourth quarter of 2010 unemployment for Whites was 8.5 percent. This was considerably lower than unemployment rates among Latinos or African Americans, 12.9 percent and 15.8 percent respectively.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, African American men and women are much more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than their White counterparts. This is despite the existence of low-cost, highly effective preventive treatment.
According to Washington State’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, youth of color comprise 45 percent of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration population despite comprising only 27 percent of the state’s youth population.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the third quarter of 2010 the homeownership rate for African Americans was just 45 percent. The homeownership rate for Latinos was 47 percent, while the homeownership rate for Whites was 75 percent.
According to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, people of color in Washington State are far more likely to be living in poverty than non-Hispanic Whites” (p. 4).
The Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2009 Assessment reported that median annual earnings in 2007 for Hispanics was $20,238 a year, for blacks it was $25,298 a year, and for whites was $32,482. These numbers are very similar to the figures put out by the Pew Hispanic Center for 2009. The Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2009 Assessment further indicated that 31% of Hispanic children under 17 years of age are living in poverty, 33% of black children are living in poverty, and 10% of white children are living in poverty.
Many people are hurting across the nation during these difficult economic times, especially people of color. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that state legislators pursue a utilitarian approach to policy making. However, one has to wonder how much different our society would look if they pursued a more Rawlsian approach—one that replaced “the greatest good for the greatest number” conception with Rawls’ belief that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions”. The Rawlsian liberal egalitarian theory of justice sets forth the notion of a society that is established under the veil of ignorance and spelled out in a contract that is public and has clear limits and conditions. According to Rawls, justice would result from collective decision rules that rational people operating under a veil of ignorance would choose in formulating a contract system of government. Rawls believes that “each person in the original position should care about the well-being of some of those in the next generation.” According to Rawls, a just society must have equality of opportunity through perfect procedural justice. He provides an example of perfect procedural justice with in the situation of an individual dividing a cake and picking his piece last. For Rawls injustice is a state in which inequalities do not benefit everyone in society. This describes the budget in Washington state and probably many other states as well. Some of the programs that will be cut or eliminated include: a 300% increase in premiums for people in Apple Health for Kids, a 50% reduction in the State Food Assistance Program, a 1.5 million dollar cut in Refuge Employment Services, the consolidation of the various Ethnic Commissions, and the elimination of the New American Program. Unfortunately, until we can agree to “share one another’s fate” as Rawls would call us to do, people of color and the poor will feel the burdens of state cuts more than anyone else. The results of these cuts will be with us for generations.