Our View: Decision retires one inequality tool; we have others

04/23/2014 6:48 PM

04/23/2014 6:49 PM

Laws that guarantee every citizen’s right to an equal chance always will be necessary in our nation or any nation that makes the rights of the minority equal to those of the majority. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Michigan voters have a right to eliminate race as a factor in state college admissions. That doesn’t necessarily impair the rights of the minority, but it proves we need new tools to protect them.

As in many states, applicants to Michigan’s schools were given points based on various criteria – grades, sports, honors, etc. There were extra points for minority status. That’s what Michigan voters didn’t like. While many will see the 6-2 decision as a civil rights setback, it also can be seen as upholding the rights of everyone – regardless of race. As a way to even the playing field, so to speak. California voters saw it the same way in 1996, approving Proposition 209.

Interestingly, California tried to revive race as an admissions factor this year, but it failed in the Legislature. As the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, it wasn’t white supremacists who killed it, but Asian Americans whose children are disproportionately succeeding without it.

Yes, prejudice still exists. Those little hate eggs tossed onto lawns last week prove it. But do affirmative action rules for college admissions have the same impact today they had 50 years ago? Or are they outdated?

Check the stats. College no longer guarantees a pass to the middle class for anyone. There are more young white college graduates out of work than those of other races, though the percentages remain higher for blacks (11.9 percent) and Latinos (9.1 percent) than for whites (8 percent), according to the Economic Policy Institute. The study said that overall, 8.8 percent of graduates were unemployed a year later, compared with 5.7 percent in 2007. More telling, the underemployment rate is 18.3 percent, compared with 9.9 seven years ago. Overall, 20 percent of Californians under age 25 who wanted a job couldn’t find one.

It gets worse. Real wages for new graduates have declined by 8.5 percent. And the days of a job including health insurance are gone. In 1990, two-thirds of college graduates started work on their new company’s insurance plan; in 2013, it was less than one-third.

This has occurred even as college enrollment has risen from 44 percent of California high school graduates in 2000 to 51.6 percent in 2012. Only one state, Massachusetts (52 percent), had a higher enrollment rate.

Instead of focusing on race, should we concentrate on class? Instead of affirmative action, give those who don’t have the education to understand financial documents greater protection from the predatory bankers. Provide more money for schools – not the schools where students arrive in dad’s BMW, but the schools where kids consider it a treat to touch a 6-year-old computer once a week; where every child qualifies for a free lunch; where teachers keep special closets filled with clothes for those arriving in rags. Make college so inexpensive that graduates don’t carry crushing debt into that first low-paying job.

There are ways beyond affirmative action to battle the inequality faced by Americans of every race. We should use them.

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