Economic Opression

The practice of forced labor, low wages,
employment discrimination and denial of equal opportunity
based on sex, nationality, race, or religion.


Certain jobs were reserved “for whites only.”

Jim Crow restricted economic possibilities and success for African-American families. In order for the ruling middle and upper-class whites to maintain power, they created laws that prevented poor African-Americans and whites from working together and forming unions. The more desirable jobs were reserved for whites and African-Americans were given the worst jobs for the lowest pay.

According to Douglas A. Blackmon, under the Black Codes and subsequently Jim Crow, tens of thousands of African-Americans were arrested, incurring outrageous fines, and were accountable for the costs associated with their own arrests. Unable to pay these debts, prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, and farm plantations.Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and forced into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials also leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, farmers, and corporations for cheap labor. Unlikely slavery, employers had little invested in these leased convicts so they were treated poorly.

“Prisoners became younger and blacker, and the length of their sentences soared.”- David Oshinsky, author of Worse Than Slavery.

Fear, intimidation and even death were used against African-Americans for attempting to secure any type of socioeconomic success for themselves and their families. In addition to limited and restrictive work opportunities, not having access to good neighborhoods, schools and hospitals that were white only widened the economic gap over several generations.

With the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.” Many barriers that crippled minorities were beginning to change.

President Lyndon B. Johnson's speech and signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Broadcast live from the East Room of the White House. July 2, 1964.


Throughout American history the opportunities for people of color to be employed and homeowners have been severely crippled due to racial restrictions. The disparities shown in wealth and income are a reflection of discrimination, inequality, and unfair biases that still continue today.

Refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks, a common natural hairstyle for African-American men and women is legal. They aren’t an “immutable characteristic of black persons.”

An article on notes that there has not been significant progress made by African-Americans, “African-Americans have faced the stiffest opposition in their attempts to obtain fair and nondiscriminatory treatment in the workplace. Overt discrimination, reliance on false and negative stereotypes, and subconscious bias pervasively limit the ability of African-Americans to obtain fair treatment in hiring, evaluations, promotions, and other aspects of employment. Members of other racial and national origin groups, especially those identifiable by facial features or skin color, face persistent discrimination similar to that faced by African-Americans.” For example, employers are more like to hire a white person with a criminal record than African-American without a criminal record. Studies have also shown that employers are 50% more likely to follow up on similar resumes and college applications with a “white-sounding” name than “black-sounding” name.

In 1963, the average wealth of white families was $117,000 higher than the average wealth of African Americans compared to $500,000, seven times the wealth by 2013. The biggest factors that contribute to the growing racial wealth gap length of homeownership, household income, unemployment, education level and financial support from family, and preexisting wealth. Even when African-Americans obtain equal achievement compared to whites the results are unequal.

Sources: Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers 1962 (December 31), Survey of Changes in Family Finances 1963, and Survey of Consumer Finances 1983–2013.

Wealth is important to create economic security for future generations as well provide a financial cushion during a difficult time. Wealth enables families to live in safer and better neighborhoods, invest in businesses, saving for retirement and supporting your children's higher education. In 2013, a representative survey of American households revealed that the median wealth of white families was $134,230 compared with $11,030 for African-American families.

How Can I Help?

Even though racial classifications were outlawed by the civil rights statutes passed in the 1960s, there are disparities in wealth, income, and other economic opportunities that prevent us from achieving equality.