For decades, progressives have attracted people of color to the Democratic Party with promises to address racial inequality.
The 2020 presidential campaign was no departure. Joe Biden, whose nomination as the Democratic Party’s torchbearer rested largely on the votes of the Black community, spoke frequently about racial disparities and laid out an “economic equity” plan meant to address injustices.
“There's just that sense the deck is stacked,” Biden said in July. “The common theme was how do we break the cycle – in good times, communities of color still lag, in bad times, they get hit first and the hardest and in recovery, take the longest to bounce back."
Certainly, evidence backs up Biden’s statement. Studies have shown that Black Americans were infected with COVID-19 at numbers three times the rate of white Americans, and they were twice as likely to die from the virus. Other data show that people of color were almost twice as likely to lose their jobs as white people during the government-mandated pandemic shutdowns.
And statistical racial discrepancies persist outside of the pandemic as well.
One study found that Black Americans were up to six times more likely to be killed by police. We also know that Black people are far more likely to be arrested for selling drugs, even though white people are more likely to be dealers. And decades after Brown v. Board of Education, our public school system is still highly segregated and funded disproportionately—leading to a persisting achievement gap between students of color and white students that creates unequal opportunity.
Libertarians and conservatives have long touted the merits of limited government, rightly arguing that public systems are prone to error, mismanagement, waste, fraud, and abuse. Few could claim that our justice system, public education system, or healthcare system are free of the aforementioned flaws. When our systems fail it harms all Americans, but it is clear that some racial groups are indeed hurt more than others.
Yet a quick perusal of Biden’s plan to address these systemic inequalities leaves much to be desired. As might be expected of someone who has spent more than 40 years in government, Biden’s “solution” for problems created or exacerbated by the government in the first place usually seems to be... more government. Many of these “solutions” are either surface-level sloganeering or otherwise fail to address the actual underlying issue.
If Biden really means business and wants to eliminate the racially biased outcomes that persist in American life, here are the top four policy positions he could embrace that would actually effect change and eradicate injustice.
1. School Choice
Our public schools are failing. Our scores consistently rank beneath other first-world countries, and it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans are functionally illiterate. Furthermore, 22 percent of our schools are overcrowded, meaning attendees do not get the time and attention they need in the classroom.
And per usual, those failures are hurting children of color the most.
It is abundantly apparent that simply throwing money at the problem, as we have for decades, will not fix it. Instead, we need to inject our education system with choice and competition.
No kid should be stuck in a failing school because of where they live. This is especially true when we consider that many people of color live in the neighborhoods that they do because of policies like redlining, a government regulation that denied insurance in or near Black neighborhoods for decades and contributed to segregation.
Racism was legal and codified in this country for almost 200 years. This system fueled wealth inequality and trapped Black people in poor neighborhoods, which then led to impoverished and underperforming schools. It isn’t hard to see the impacts of racism on our modern school system.
To address this problem, Biden should embrace simple school choice solutions.
Under these policies, families are given the tax dollars allotted for their child’s schooling in an education savings account (ESA). Similar to an HSA, families can then put those dollars toward a range of educational services, such as private school tuition, homeschooling, online courses, or tutors—or they can reinvest them in their local public school if they feel it is their best option.
This policy not only has the power to break kids out of failing schools, it encourages fiscal responsibility, as families can roll over unspent dollars and funnel them toward higher education. In this model, every family could choose the educational path that is best for their unique, individual child. Nothing would eradicate segregation, disproportionate funding, or the injustice that permeates our school system faster.
While it’s important to note that Biden would not have the constitutional authority to enact these policies in one fell swoop via the federal government, he could encourage states to adopt this model—and take down any roadblocks.
Unfortunately, so far, Biden has caved to the pressure of the teachers' unions and indicated he is opposed to school choice measures. If he really wants to heal the racial divide, Biden will have to rethink this flawed position.
2. Occupational Licensing
Occupational licenses are governmental regulations where workers must get permits or licenses in order to work legally in certain fields. Politicians and industry insiders claim these licensing schemes keep consumers safe, but in reality, they are nothing more than a crony protectionist scam to block new competitors in an occupation to keep prices artificially high.
Examples of occupational licensing requirements include high fees paid to the government or expensive and time-consuming educational programs. By forcing those who want to open a business or practice a trade to jump through expensive hoops, occupational licenses block many people from good jobs.
After the Civil War and through the Civil Rights Act, many of these occupational licenses were put in place specifically to block people of color from working in certain fields. Today, we see that legacy continue as occupational licenses often focus on fields that disproportionately affect Black workers. For example, licenses for hair-braiding force Black women to attend cosmetology school - which costs tens of thousands of dollars and takes months - before they can braid hair even though cosmetology schools do not focus on this skillset. It’s a way to block competition from the market and force those who do want to enter it to first pay the schools and the state.
It is estimated that occupational licensing eliminates 2.8 million jobs a year and, as a whole, is a $203 billion drag on our economy. Licensing has been found to disproportionately affect people of color as well. Some of the licenses require English proficiency, others say a resident must have lived in a state a number of years before they are eligible for the license, and many states block people with a criminal record from obtaining the right to work. (How is that supposed to promote rehabilitation?)
All in all, these laws have a history of systemic racism and continue to hurt people of color at an infuriating rate. Getting rid of them should be an easy call.
3. Run Away From Lockdowns
Unfortunately, a coronavirus advisor to President-Elect Biden has hinted at a nation-wide lockdown in response to the recent upticks in the coronavirus pandemic.
This would be disastrous for all Americans, but as discussed, data indicate it would be worse for people of color who have already seen their employment put at greater risk than others. African American businesses have been the most hurt by the economic shutdowns experienced thus far, with a 41 percent decline in Black business owners between February and April.
If these shutdowns were to be amplified and prolonged, it can be expected they would significantly increase racial inequality and stagnate economic development in many communities.
The lockdowns have never proven capable of actually preventing spread of the coronavirus, and by many metrics have made it worse. It’s horrific to imagine that a Biden administration might not only wreak such havoc in communities of color through further lockdowns, but worse, would do so for an approach that would fail to make society healthier in the first place.
4. Drug Decriminalization
The War on Drugs has negatively affected every person in the United States.
The amount of waste in enforcing these failed policies has created a vacuum in society that has led to the rise of drug cartels, violence, and an untreated addiction epidemic that has torn families apart, taken countless lives, and decimated whole communities. It’s impossible to adequately summarize the devastating impact of these ideas.
It’s now common knowledge that the real target of the War on Drugs, implemented by the Nixon administration, was always the anti-war left and the Black community. The policies were an opportunity to arrest the leaders of these communities, raid their homes, bust up their meetings, and vilify them on the evening news.
And boy did it work.
Black and white people use drugs at similar rates, but Black people are 3.6 times more likely to be in jail for them. They also receive much harsher sentences for these drug crimes with Black men serving sentences 13.1 percent longer than white men for the same offense.
Meanwhile, mandatory minimum sentences have been applied to drugs used more often in the Black community (crack vs. cocaine), leading to excessive sentences for those caught with these products. And SWAT team raids looking for drugs are wildly more likely to be carried out in Black neighborhoods than in white ones.
There are endless reasons to end the War on Drugs by decriminalizing these substances and allowing society to focus on treatment, but the racial disparities within these policies are likely the most compelling.
Frustratingly, Biden currently does not even support vanilla positions such as legalizing marijuana. So, it is unlikely he will be the reformer the country, and especially communities of color, need on this issue. His continued support for the War on Drugs reinforces racial inequality.
While Democrats continue to be dominant among voters of color, it does appear their position is slipping among these constituents. President Trump did better with voters of color than any GOP candidate in decades. In fact, 26 percent of his voting share came from non-white voters. This perhaps indicates that voters have become somewhat disillusioned with the Democratic Party’s empty promises over the years.
If Biden were to enact these four agenda items, he would make good on his promises to address racial disparities in our government—and he’d likely find many willing conservatives and libertarians eager to fight these evils alongside him.