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Guest Post: Addressing the Multiple Causes of Inequality

BY Lisa García Bedolla
Lisa García Bedolla
Lisa García Bedolla is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education a
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| Oct 16, 2012 2

By Lisa García Bedolla, Graduate School of Education at Berkeley

As part of our 75th anniversary, Irvine commissioned a series of posts from California experts and thought leaders who discuss the state’s most important trends and how we might collectively respond to them. This is one of those posts and we invite you to check back throughout the fall to read more of these entries and share your reactions below.

With California a majority-minority state, our challenge is finding innovative ways to address persistent racial inequality. A recent UCLA report showed that almost 70 percent of California’s youth are non-white, with no single racial group making up a majority. The report also reveals the stark differences in rates of enrollment in postsecondary education and labor market participation across ethno racial groups, and between males and females within groups. Among immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos, females are 11 percent more likely to enroll in postsecondary education than males, a gap that is echoed across all other ethno racial groups except for Asian/Pacific Islanders. Similarly, almost 30 percent of immigrant Latino and African American youth aged 18–22 are out of school and out of work, compared to 14 percent of white and 8 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander youth. These structural inequalities affect every aspect of our state’s well-being — our income tax base, levels of political participation and the degree to which public policy reflects the needs of all Californians.

One good example of the impact that educational inequality has on all Californians is Latino college-going rates. Latinos are California’s largest ethno racial group, yet have the lowest rates of college completion. Martin Carnoy calls low Latino college graduation rates a "college graduate crisis" that will have detrimental long-term effects on the state’s economy. He points out that even though in 2005–06 almost half of students in California’s public schools were Latino, Latinos made up only about 15 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded by the state’s public and private universities. Patrick Kelly estimates that the lack of college completion among Latinos will, by 2020, result in a two percent decrease in national per capita income. In Latino-heavy California, that effect will be significantly greater, leading to double-digit decreases in per capita income. Since our state’s taxation system depends heavily on income taxes, these changes can be expected to have non-trivial effects on state revenue and service provision. They also will affect the federal tax base. Thus, college completion rates among Latinos have important economic consequences for California and the United States as a whole.

The result is a catch-22. At a time when the state needs to be investing more in the education of its children, California is caught in the worst budget crisis it has faced since the Great Depression, resulting in unprecedented disinvestment in the social safety net needed to address these structural disparities. That is where private philanthropy, like the James Irvine Foundation, may be able to step in. In an era of dysfunction within public institutions, perhaps the future lies in public-private partnerships geared towards addressing the cumulative disadvantage that lies at the heart of these inequalities. Children in poverty face a number of developmental challenges, rooted in inadequate prenatal care, nutrition, access to health care, quality housing and early-learning opportunities, before they even enter kindergarten. Institutions like the James Irvine Foundation have the ability to address those many structures of inequality by supporting holistic solutions that bridge the traditional silos and focus resources in the places where youth live, simultaneously addressing the numerous cumulative inequalities that negatively affect youth’s life chances.

With the California Votes Initiative, the James Irvine Foundation used rigorous social science research to inform community-based strategies to transform the California electorate. The result was a cutting-edge and successful partnership among private philanthropy, academia and the nonprofit sector. As the foundation celebrates its 75th anniversary, that type of groundbreaking partnership may be what is needed in order for the foundation to continue expanding opportunity for all the people of California.

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Lisa García Bedolla is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley and Chair of Berkeley's Center for Latino Policy Research. Her research centers around the civic engagement, community activity and educational success of racial and ethnic groups in the United States, with a particular focus on the intersections of race, class and gender.


Jessica Lavariega Monforti Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Nice piece Lisa!

Barrie Thorne Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Yes -- excellent article, Lisa. Public-private partnerships are helpful, but the biggest challenge, in my view, is reorganizing the dysfunctional structure of California's state government and revenue-raising process (eg getting rid of the 2/3rds rule; passing legislation so oil companies pay a tax for extracting resources from public land) so that the state can reverse political gear and be part of a collective effort to restore/rejuvenate a sense of public responsibility for all of its citizens. The current situation is tragic and deeply unjust (I know you agree). Keep up the great research and activism!

The opinions expressed in the Comments section are those of the commenters and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

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