Friday, December 03, 2021

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Article Index

I. Poverty and Victimization

      Record economic inequality exists in the United States. In 2009, median income declined for all family households, with African Americans suffering the greatest income decline. The income decline exacerbated the ongoing problem of the African American median income trending as the lowest in the United States, recorded in 2009 at $32,584. The disparity in median income between African Americans and other ethnic groups evidences the increase in wealth disparity and economic inequality. The discrepancy in income has grown since the 2001 recession. The U.S. Poverty Report noted that the top 20% of income generators ($100,000+) earned 50.3% of all income and the lowest 20% of income generators ($20,453) earned 3.4% of all income generated. The African American community, with the median income of $32,584, produces minimal wealth. The low median income of the black community means that African Americans fall in the bottom half of wealth generation in the United States. Black income generates merely 13% of all income in the United States. The implications of economic inequality are wide-ranging for the African American community, as legal scholar Patricia Hill Collins noted:

       Arguing that the economic inequality that characterized the United States at its inception continues to influence contemporary institutional practices, structural discrimination perspectives argue that American social institutions routinely discriminate against Native-Americans, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans. Limited to segregated neighborhoods, educated in inferior schools, and lacking access to the good jobs that are increasingly located in inaccessible suburban neighborhoods, these groups bear an unfair share of the costs of economic development and American economic restructuring. Thus, the disproportionate placement of these groups in the bottom twenty percent of American households reflects less on their abilities and motivation and more on historical, sedimented racial discrimination.

      While women are bearing the brunt of poverty, income inequality is especially devastating for single women of color. Single African American women have an average personal wealth measured at $100. Single Latinas have an average personal wealth of $120. Single African American women aged thirty-six to forty-nine have a personal wealth of $5. In contrast, single white women have a personal wealth of $41,500. Nearly half of all single African American and Latino women have negative personal wealth, as their debts exceed their assets. The statistics are compounded when motherhood is added to the equation. On average, single women of color with children under the age of eighteen have no measurable wealth.

      Structural and institutional racism contribute to and create economic inequality. The incongruity of racism is reflected in how those in the bottom socio-economic rung of society are also blamed for their circumstances. African American women are impoverished at rates disproportionate to the total U.S. population. For example, African American women are six percent of the U.S. population but represent nearly thirty-seven percent of impoverished females in the United States. Further, African American women account for nearly the largest number of women living in poverty.

      Women living in poverty are among the most vulnerable and victimized populations according to crime statistics. The Department of Justice found that African American women are more likely than white women to be victims of intimate-partner violence and that African American women are twice as likely to be killed by a spouse as white women. The legal and political implications of being an African American woman become apparent when one examines the violence these women suffer. Despite the perilous nature of being an abused African American woman, seeking redress is difficult. An African American woman walks into a courtroom not as an individual but as an assemblage of racial and gender stereotypes. The stereotypes work to her detriment. Mario Barnes argues that courts use official narrative to disguise biased social construction of minority identities--the individual is erased and the group stereotype will reconstitute individual identity. The courts use stereotypes and the societal significance of race, class, gender, and other identity variables to perform a legal construction of identity. Individual narratives are reduced to oppressive stereotypes with stock stories. Consequently, courts do not view poor, battered African American women as individuals but as an amalgam of stereotypical constructs of race, class, and gender. The court treated my client as another stock story of an abused, poor African American woman.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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