Understanding “The Meaning of Race in a 21st Century America” Requires an Accurate Census

By Patrick McNeil, Communications Assistant

At a Center for American Progress event on Wednesday called “The Meaning of Race in a 21st Century America,” panelists spoke to America’s shifting demographics and the need for data collection tools – namely the U.S. census –  to accurately represent all communities.

Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, said that consolidating the six most populous Asian categories, for example, would leave out huge numbers of struggling people and communities who need the backup of data in order to do their advocacy work.

“We still have to remind people that there isn’t anything biological about those definitions [of race],” Sen said. “Race as a social construct remains so critical to the way that we relate to each other, the way our institutions run, the way our politics happen, that we have to keep having a census that is sensitive to those dynamics and that helps us have the data we need to do the best we can in terms of equity and inclusion.”

Half of Latinos mark White on the census and half mark ‘other race’ – and 97 percent of these ‘other race’ responses are Latino identifiers, according to Julie Dowling, associate professor in the Department of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  Many people hypothesize that those who check White have a lighter complexion, or are more assimilated, and that those who check ‘other race’ have darker skin, which has led some to conclude that Latinos are not a racialized group and thus do not deserve the same kinds of protections. In reality, after Dowling interviewed Mexican Americans in Texas, people who checked White were not necessarily lighter or more assimilated but checked White to make a statement that ‘I am an American citizen and I want the government to recognize me.’

“The Census [Bureau] has been up to some really fantastic work in this area,” Dowling said, referring to its Alternative Questionnaire Experiment (AQE), which is designed to combat some of this mismatched reporting.

The AQE program, conducted during the 2010 census to research new design strategies for collecting race and ethnicity data in 2020, had a national sample of almost 500,000 households (mailed questionnaires), a re-interview phase via phone with one in five of those households, and 67 focus groups across the United States and Puerto Rico.

And this research and reconfiguration of race and ethnicity questions is very much needed, according to Hilary O. Shelton, Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy at the NAACP. He reminded the audience that there’s been “a lot of hoopla” over the term ‘negro’ still being listed as an option on the census – although that term will be eliminated starting with this year’s American Community Survey.

“The idea that we’re post-racial, the idea that we live in a colorblind society, that seems to be the biggest impediment to moving somewhere,” Dowling said.

To see a video of the event, please click here.

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Report: LGBT Service Members and Veterans Deserve Employment Protections

By Patrick McNeil, Leadership Conference Education Fund Communications Assistant

A new Center for American Progress report highlights the employment discrimination disparities faced by LGBT Americans who have served in uniform – a disparity that could be diminished by protections included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Learn more here.

Infographic: LGBT Service Members and Veterans Need the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

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New Polling Data: Millennials and Poverty

By Patrick McNeil, Leadership Conference Education Fund Communications Assistant

The Half in Ten campaign and the Center for American Progress this week released new data highlighting the relationship between Millennials (ages 18-34) and poverty. The data comes from a recent study done in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the significant Millennial oversample reveals that they are more likely than older Americans to directly face economic problems.

For example, compared to older Americans, Millennials are more likely to be unable to afford medical care (29 percent v. 45 percent), have too little money to buy enough food (27 percent v. 45 percent), and are twice as likely to fall behind in rent or mortgage payments (19 percent v. 38 percent).

While Millennials and older Americans basically agree that structural economic problems primarily cause poverty (and not because of bad decisions or irresponsible behavior), Millennials are much more likely to recognize that racial discrimination plays a part in who ends up in poverty. Fifty-seven percent of non-Millennials totally disagreed that racial discrimination plays a large role, while an almost identical proportion of Millennials – 58 percent – believes it does.

Millennials also support the traditional safety net and other initiatives to reduce poverty. The table below shows levels of support by Millennials and non-Millennials for particular proposals to reduce poverty.

Millennial opinion

To learn more about how Millennials feel about poverty, or to explore other recent reports, please visit Half in Ten’s website here.

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Conversation on Criminal Justice Reform Shows Support from Attorney General, Bipartisan Members of Congress

By Gabe Colman, a Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, members of Congress, civil rights leaders, and criminal justice experts demonstrated strong bipartisan support for ending mass incarceration at an event co-sponsored by The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Vera Institute of Justice at the Georgetown University Law Center last week.  Holder delivered opening remarks at the event, titled “A Conversation on Criminal Justice: A Call to Action for the Nation,” and discussed the Department of Justice’s “Smart on Crime Initiative” while calling on legislators to end felony disenfranchisement in America.

“Today, we gather in recognition of the fact that, although our laws and procedures must be continually updated, our commitment to the cause of justice must remain constant,” Holder said. He emphasized the fact that criminal justice reform is not a partisan issue and that the goal is to shape a “system that deters and punishes crime, keeps us safe, and ensures that those who pay their debts have the chance to become productive citizens.”

Following Holder’s remarks, a dynamic panel of experts engaged in a conversation about strategies for building a national commitment to end mass incarceration. In addition, Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., along with Sens. Rand Paul, R. Ky., Mike Lee, R. Utah, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D. R.I., discussed the effects of mass incarceration on the country and stressed the importance of bipartisan support.

Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office and a member of the panel, recommended three first steps: 1) Rein in the power of prosecutors, 2) Pass the Smarter Sentencing Act with no additional mandatory minimum sentences, and 3) End mass incarceration. Murphy echoed Holder’s point about bipartisanship and said that “we have to come together…organizations on the left and right.”

Lee, the lead sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act, agreed with Holder’s and the panel’s belief that the criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. He said that criminal justice policies have succeeded in trapping the offenders as well as the men, women, and children on the outside of prisons in “isolation, poverty, immobility.”

Paul, a co-sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act, illustrated the effects of mandatory minimums and mass incarceration in his state. “Mandatory minimums to me are the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting that one-third of young Black Kentuckians are unable to vote because of felony convictions.

The Smarter Sentencing Act is a “common sense reform,” according to Whitehouse, a co-sponsor of the bill. He said it costs the federal government $8 billion per year to keep prisoners locked up, and urged that the nation must “pay attention not just to the inmates and their transitions, but also the communities that receive them.” He also said “we cannot incarcerate our way to keeping the public safe” and we shouldn’t be “naïve about the path forward.”

Watch this youtube video playlist to view remarks from the event:

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5 Things We Can Do To Cut Poverty Today

By Patrick McNeil, Leadership Conference Communications Assistant

The Half in Ten campaign released this video today highlighting five steps we can take to help reduce poverty in the United States, where economic inequality is on the rise and one in six people are living in poverty.

They recommend we:

  1. create jobs,
  2. increase the minimum wage,
  3. expand access to pre-k and childcare,
  4. make the workplace family friendly, and
  5. don’t make poverty worse than it already is.

The Half in Ten campaign is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Its aim is to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half in ten years.

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National Congress of American Indians President Delivers the 2014 State of Indian Nations Address

By Danielle Brutus, Spring 2014 Education Fund Intern

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) recently held its annual State of Indian Nations convening to discuss the current state of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities.

President Brian Cladoosby spoke to the current economic struggles that the Indian Country is facing and urged congress to support them both financially and politically. “We all want good schools and sustainable employment… safe communities and new opportunities…drinkable water and breathable air. And like all people, what we want, above all, is a bright future for our children and grandchildren… a future of limitless possibilities. We can achieve these goals… if we work together,” Cladoosby said.

Native people are America’s most rural population. They maintain more than five percent of the land base, making the Indian Country the nation’s fourth largest state. However, the Indian Country suffers greatly from lack of health coverage, public funding (schools, highways, and hospitals), and government support. Families are living in homes that do not have running water or a proper sewer system, the highway systems are not properly structured, and schools do not have proper funding to provide adequate education.

Cladoosby noted the importance of investing in Native youth, since nearly 42 percent of Indian Country’s population is under the age of 24. “Native youth are disproportionately vulnerable,” he said. “Many grow up in communities where jobs are scarce or even non-existent… where classrooms lack basic essentials.”

NCAI is actively working to advocate for investments in tribal economies, to remove barriers to economic development, and finally honor tribes as governments. “Together, we can build a strong partnership between all of our nations… one that will secure a brighter future for all our people,” Cladoosby said.

To read his full speech or to watch a video of the event, please visit NCAI’s website here.

NCAI also recently released a short video – “Proud To Be” – leading up to the Super Bowl to highlight ongoing efforts to change the name of the Washington, D.C. football team.

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New Report on Why Protecting LGBT Workers is a Family Value Highlights Need for ENDA

By Simone Novorr, a Spring 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The Center for American Progress (CAP) this week released a report, “Whose Family Do We Truly Value?”, highlighting the need for policy solutions that strengthen worker protections to address a particularly economically disadvantaged group: African-American LGBT people and their families. The report notes that workplace inequality for LGBT people affects their economic security and puts them at a greater risk of living in poverty.

This demographic is hardest hit since nondiscrimination laws are almost nonexistent in the South where the majority of LGBT African Americans live. While the national unemployment rate is a little less than 8 percent, the unemployment rate for African American LGBT workers is a staggering 15 percent. Moreover, African American same-sex couples experience poverty rates twice as high as their heterosexual peers.

A widespread misconception persists that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is already legally barred in the workplace, but in reality this discrimination is completely legal in a majority of states.

Despite passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the gender wage gap endures and is particularly large for women of color and LBT women. According to a joint report called A Broken Bargain by CAP, the Movement Advancement Project, and the Human Rights Campaign, a “double-gap” exists, ensuring that women in same-sex or gender nonconforming partnerships earn much less than opposite-sex partnerships.

In November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would federally prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The economic barriers faced by LGBT people, particularly African Americans, underscore the importance and urgency of workplace protections for these communities.

To read more about these economic disparities, read CAP’s full report here.

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