Friday, May 08, 2009

More Obaminations: Racial Budget Disparities

by Daniel Bennett

Yesterday, the Obama Administration revealed its 2009-10 federal budget in its entirety. Doug Lederman has an excellent piece on the higher ed portion of the budget over at Inside Higher Ed, that includes a breakdown of the appropriations by program. Taking a cursory glance at the various program appropriations, something stuck out at me --there appears to be a huge disparity in the institutional aid being allocated towards various minority programs. Particularly, it appeared that a disproportionate amount of the institutional aid budget was appropriated to black/African American-specific programs, relative to other minority-specific programs. This prompted further analysis to determine the extent of racial disparity in the budget.

I separated the various institutional aid programs according to the specific minority group that would benefit. The 2009-10 budget for institutional aid totaled nearly $1.17 billion. Of this, $714 million was appropriated for race- or ethnicity-specific programs. Nearly $558 million of the budget is directed towards Black/African American specific programs, or 47.8% of total institutional and 78.1% of race/ethnic-specific aid programs. Hispanic-directed program appropriations totaled nearly $110 Million, representing 9.4% of total institutional and 15.3% of race/ethnic-specific aid programs. Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian appropriations totaled nearly $47 Million, or 4% of institutional and 6.6% of race/ethnic-specific aid programs.

To gain a better understanding of how inequitable these appropriation levels are, I looked at the child population (under 18 years old) by race/ethnicity, as well as the poverty levels among these populations. According to the 2005-07 (3 year average) American Community Survey, it is estimated that Black/African Americans comprised 14.8% of the under 18 population and 35.2% of these children earned less than the poverty level. Hispanics accounted for 20.3% of the under 18 population, of which 28.2% earned less than the poverty level. Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiians made up 1.1% of the under 18 population, of which 31.9% earned less than the poverty level. The 2 groups that did not receive any directed appropriations in the 2009-10 budget are whites (not Hispanic) and Asian-Americans, which accounted for 57.3% and 3.9% of the under 18 population, of which 10.8% and 12% earned less than the poverty level, respectively.

Nearly 376,000 (10%) more Hispanic children are living in poverty than African Americans, yet the latter group received 400% times the directed funding as the former. Nearly 4.5 million white children are living in poverty, or 720,000 more than African Americans, yet the former group received zero in direct program appropriations. Over 344,000 Asian children live in poverty, but there was no program-specific funding for this group either.

If the social goal is to provide equal opportunities for the disadvantaged, then policies need to be implemented in a manner that does not favor one group over another. An impoverished child is an impoverished child, regardless of his origin or skin color. This is but one example of flawed social engineering that knowingly rewards one group at the peril of another.

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