In my last post I discussed how Cliven Bundy’s incredibly offensive racist statements in part stem from a worldview in part shaped by the Myth of the Free Ride, This myth is the belief that minorities are getting more than their fair share in the U.S. by mooching off the welfare system or benefiting from outdated Civil Rights legislation that is no longer needed. While Bundy was rebuked for airing these opinions out int he open I think they are more widespread than we would like to admit and we should probably talk about the myth.
To that point to provide some points of conversation and an entry point for anyone trying to think through this issue more I decided to write this second post. In this post I will state some common claims, all of which I heard repeated within the last two weeks, that are part of the larger Myth of the Free Ride. Then I will confront these beliefs with recent stats and figures from Government statistics, reports and published peer-reviewed studies that reflect national realities.
Claims vs. Realities
Claim: “People on welfare are lazy dishonest minorities perpetually mooching off honest (white) taxpayers. They cheat the system, they often spend their money on unwisely on luxury items they don’t need and end up dependent on government hand outs.”
A government report based on 2011 data showed that contrary to the popular image of the “Welfare Queen” the minority living lavishly off public assistance, an image popularized by Ronald Reagan, families on government assistance spent 77% of their family budget on housing, food and transportation, compared to 65% of families not on government assistance. In other words they spend 12% less on non-essentials than their wealthier counterparts.
Claim: “[Minorities and undocumented immigrants] already have it way better than [white people]. Illegal immigrants get a free ride; their children go to publicly funded school and they get medical care and welfare, but they don’t pay taxes.”
Facts: Undocumented immigrants are here for reasons very much tied to U.S. foreign policy. On one hand we have intervened in South American politics, often destabilizing democratically elected governments, supporting dictators, and training South American death squads in our “School of Americas” all for the benefit of large U.S. based companies. On the other hand we have closed legal means for people to follow work that is based in the U.S. even as we have allowed the flow of capital and goods across our borders with laws like NAFTA. The result is that immigrants come to the U.S. for work or are fleeing the human rights abuses we have sown in their countries. Due to legal structures here in the U.S. they remain undocumented. For some time such people have acted, and continue to act, as a source of cheap, disposable, and exploitable labor.
Considering all of this, I would not characterize a person who voluntarily leaves their home and native land, or flees it due to political crisis, accepts the exploitation of smugglers, the risks of dying in the desert, the risks of detention and deportation, the risk of being separated from their family, all to be underpaid at mostly difficult and dirty jobs someone who is out for a free ride.
Additionally there is the issue that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes. In 2010, undocumented immigrants contributed $10.2 billion in state and federal taxes or roughly 6.4% of their income. If we allowed them to work here legally their effective tax rate would only rise a whopping .6% to 7% of their total income. (Full Report Here)
Claim: “Minorities get admitted into schools, get scholarships, and get hired for jobs over more deserving white people because of Affirmative Action.”
Facts: Affirmative Action was put in place to counteract an explicit or implicit systemic preference for white people in admittance to schools, jobs, and other aspects of our society. Both the progress we have made as a society on this issue and the benefits minorities have received due to Affirmative Action are both over-stated.
In regards to hiring practices, racial preference for whites in hiring is still an ongoing problem. Several studies have shown that the same resume with a black sounding name versus a white sounding name received 50% to 30% less call backs for interviews. This pattern was found across all industries and even groups that labelled themselves as “Equal Opportunity Employers.” (Example 1 – 2003; Example 2 – 2010)
In regards to education, Affirmative Action (or some type of legislation and attention) is still needed as segregation and academic inequality have continued to persist in our society.
Segregation never left some parts of our society and it is reforming in others. While all white schools are not allowed, there are many all-black schools that are being formed not due to accidents or communities being largely black, but by intention zoning that whisks white children away from all-black schools that are often next door. Currently 50% of black students attend schools that are 90% minorities.
Whatever the more abstract psychological and social consequences of the resurgence of segregation, the fact that minorities receive less funding leads to very concrete academic consequences. Educational resources and finances follow white children and students of color receive less money than their white peers due to federal loopholes. These economic and funding disparities are in part why white students are more likely to have higher grades than all races except Asians.
To suggest all admittance to college should be “race blind” because Affirmative Action gives minorities an unfair advantage over and against more deserving white students is to ignore how our education system is failing children of color.
In regards to college scholarships, a 2011 statistical study debunked the popular myth that minority applications have access to more grants and get more funds than white students because of race-based scholarships and programs. The following are some highlights I pulled from the document.
- Less than 5% of program scholarships and 10% of individual scholarships had any race requirement. Those often had additional criteria such as community service and academic excellence.
- Numerous explicit “White’s only” scholarships exist in the U.S. alongside scholarships made for minorities.
- Additionally, numerous scholarships carry an implicit bias for white students by the nature of the activities, geographic locations, countries, field of study and religion they are based around.
- White students win 69.3% of all scholarships in the U.S. (almost exactly double what all minorities combined win) while they make up 61.8% of the total student population.
- When the race of the recipients of private scholarships was compared to the percentage each race made up of the total student body, the statistics showed a preference for white students by about 14%.
- When recipients of all scholarships who were of similar financial need were compared, the statistics still showed a preference for white students by about 6%.
- When recipients of all scholarships who were of similar excellent academic backgrounds (3.51 GPA and above) the statistics still showed a preference for white students by about 7%
In each of these three claims that I have examined there is a huge disconnect between the Myth of the Free Ride and the actual reality of our society. While this might not change everyone’s mind on this issue, it is at least a starting point.
Perhaps the next conversation to have after this one is about who is really pushing this narrative in society via the media and who benefits from pushing a narrative that inclines people to blame poor minorities for inequity and problems in the United States. Hint: It’s the wealthy elite.