This week, the Supreme Court in the United States declared affirmative action programs aimed at promoting minorities in universities unconstitutional. The voting result was clear: 6 justices sided with the ruling, while three justices expressed a dissenting opinion. At its core, the argument of the majority of justices is clear and straightforward: favoring certain groups and individuals over others violates the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution. However, the problems start here, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was appointed to the Supreme Court under the Biden administration, has articulated this point quite clearly: referring to equality before the law becomes a farce when the social reality looks completely different, and certain groups are not only subjected to racial discrimination but also face significant barriers to participation in the established central social and economic structures. In such a social and economic context, such a ruling reinforces structural racism that should actually be reduced through affirmative action programs.
And the empirical evidence leaves no room for doubt here. Particularly, Latinx and African Americans have worse educational opportunities. Access to quality education is mostly not guaranteed because the educational infrastructure and funding in the regions and neighborhoods where disproportionately many African Americans or Latinx people live are poorly developed and financed. Access to universities has become more attainable for one group through affirmative action programs, but data clearly show that despite these improved access opportunities, African Americans graduate from universities with higher debts than their white peers. This also has massive implications for their career paths. Access to the job market is also unevenly distributed, and here too, skin color plays a central role. Unemployment rates are significantly higher among Latinx and African Americans compared to white individuals. It's no wonder that this is also reflected in poverty rates. Numerous studies have also made it clear that racial discrimination still persists in job hiring. Clear patterns also emerge in income disparities: Blacks and Hispanics earn significantly less than their white colleagues. And these differences are quite stable over time. Black women are particularly affected, earning only 50 cents for every dollar earned by white individuals. Access to social welfare programs is also unevenly structured, and this has long been an intentional political decision. African Americans were excluded from most of the social programs introduced with the New Deal. Of course, not explicitly based on racism, no; individuals in specific employment sectors were simply excluded from receiving social benefits: those in the agricultural sector and those employed in private households. And almost exclusively, African Americans worked in these areas. Similar patterns of structural racism apply to education and labor market policies, not to mention the problems in the justice system.
With such an unequal distribution of economic and educational opportunities, it's not surprising that wealth in the United States is massively unevenly distributed. While white households had an average wealth of $1.3 million in 2022, the value for black households was only $340,000, less than a third. And here, a cycle mechanism emerges that clearly highlights structural racism in the United States: lower wealth results in lower educational opportunities, which subsequently lead to poorer chances of participation in the labor market. In the context of such economic and social reality, making a strong argument for equality before the law and ignoring the systematic exclusion of certain groups from participation opportunities in society and the economy is cynical and reinforces the patterns of structural racism in the United States.