Soc 3AC Professor Powers
Soc 3AC- Reader 2
Professor Brian Powers
8 December 2010 Foundations for Disparities in America
When I was in fifth grade I was in a play about American history and the equal opportunities that America provides. Growing up I truly believed the lesson the play had taught me. One song that really stuck in my head was “ The Great American Melting Pot.” It was a song about how people with different backgrounds from all over the world, came to America where they could be given a new chance for equality. In my soiobiography I compared and contrasted the differences in education, family life, income, and neighborhoods between my informant, Derek, and myself. Derek and I are about the same age and live only fifty miles from each other, but the resources we each grew up with influenced me to go to a four year university and Derek to not. I am a white girl who has grown up with two educated parents who managed to earn sufficient income to put our family in the top five percent income quintile. On the other hand, Derek is an African-American boy who has grown up with a single-mother in the second income quintile. It became very obvious to me after my sociobiography that the lyrics to “The Great American Melting Pot” do not speak to the reality of America today. Since that revelation I have continued my research including reviewing the U.S Census data and its findings. I have concluded that both economic position and race have a dramatic impact on future opportunity.
Post World War II the country experienced an economic boom that benefitted many families. As the United States progressed into the 1970’s, the balance of income changed drastically, creating a huge gap in equality (Categorically Unequal). Reviewing the data from the 1970’s and beyond we can see the growing gap in inequality. As stated in State of Working America, Work of Nations, and Categorically Unequal, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This postindustrial era changed America because the need for the working class declined due to technology improvement, which eliminated many jobs. Massey explains how this widened the economic gap in the U.S. Looking at the income quintiles that formed after the 1970’s there are a clear connection between education level and income quintile. The people in the top five percent have a much higher level of education than their fellow Americans in the second quintile. Massey explains that education is the “primary mechanism by which class position becomes institutionalized in the new ecology of inequality” (196). Education is the top requirement to gain more income and ensure a place in a high quintile. The students who earn college degrees find themselves in a position to secure better jobs and receive a higher income, whereas those who have only completed high school are in a position where fewer jobs are available to them and wages are lower. Massey explains how the quality of education affects children. “The spatial concentration between the rich and the poor school districts raises the odds that affluent children will receive a superior education and that poor children will get inferior schooling, virtually guaranteeing the intergenerational transmission of class position”(197). The State of Working America also explains that children from wealthier families have the advantage of a better education even if they don’t have better academic skills. When looking at test scores of eighth grade children those who scored low and came from a low income family only had a 3% chance of going to college, while who children who scored low and were wealthy had a 30% chance of completing college. It is clear that on numerous levels wealth correlates with educational opportunity.
Looking at the US Census data we can see the true difference that income quintiles has on education. In the second income