Introduction The ethos known as the American Dream isdefined as “set of ideals stating that in the United States freedom includesopportunities to obtain prosperity, success, and upward social mobility throughhard work no matter what an individual’s racial, religious, or economicbackground is.
” (Eliassen, 2014). According to this ideal, everyone who pursueswealth can reach it, regardless of any type of background or personal contextthe person is coming from. Even before the widening of the wealth gap inresponse to various economic crisis and developments in the United States ofAmerica, it is questionable whether the American Dream has always been areality for all groups. For example, research suggests that it has been morelikely for African-Americans to move downward then upward on the scale ofincome distribution, when born between the 1950s and 1980s (Mazumder, 2014). Fromthe perspective of gender, it is also questionable whether the American Dreamheld and holds true for women.
Nonetheless, the ethos still prevails not onlyin the United States of America, but around the whole world as universal beliefin the power of an individual’s freedom within a capitalist system. This paper will explore the question towhat extent and how racial background influences economic opportunities andclass affiliation in the United States of America today. The term race will beused in the following as referring to a “socially constructed category ofclassifying members of a society on the basis of a few arbitrarily selectedphysical or biological traits, such as skin color or eye shape” (Garcia, 2014).The economic opportunities of the various races in the United States are assessedby their social mobility, or “themovement or opportunities for movement between different social classes oroccupational groups, and the advantages and disadvantages that go with this interms of income, security of employment, opportunities for advancement and soon” (Aldridge, 2003). The division in classes of wealth is undertaken byfocusing on the income of a household. Low class households have less than twothirds of the median income, upper class households have more than double themedian with the middle class laying in between (Pew Research Center, 2015).
Asfor today the median wealth of a white household is thirteen times higher thanthe one of an African-American one, as well as ten times as high as the one ofa Hispanic household (Pew Research Center, 2015). Analyzing the currentdistribution of wealth suggests the hypothesis, that racial background heavilyinfluences economic opportunities and thereby class affiliation. In thefollowing this claim will be assessed from an intersectionalist perspective byanalyzing the impact of the American education system on social mobility andthe resulting segregation of American job markets with focus on the foodservice industry. Intersectionality The question how and to what extent racehas an influence on economic opportunities and class affiliation involvesdifferent variables within the field of sociology and their influence on eachother, therefore they should not be analyzed individually. Intersectionality isa concept that challenges aggregate claims about privilege and oppression andattempts to focus on a broader context when making claims about groups (Garcia,2015). An upper class male person of color will have very different experiencesthan a female person of color in the working class with low income, even thoughthey might belong share one affiliation with a common group. This concept isimportant to keep in mind in the following, as claims are made about largegroups that might not hold true in the context of every individual. The AmericanEducation System At the beginning of asuccessful and prosperous life stands the education one receives.
It is widelyaccepted that education is a key to improve living conditions and to move up thesocial ladder. Research has shown that educational expansion has increased theshare of population with college degrees, thereby increasing social mobility inthe United States (Pfeffer and Hertel, 2015). Thus, access to college educationbecomes an important factor in gaining economic opportunities. In the followingthe relation between race and educational opportunities will be analyzed. The American educationsystem is not federally controlled, resulting in varying characteristics by state.In general, the federal government does not provide large portions of fundingto all levels of education. The state and local governments are obliged toprovide funds for education through grants and raising taxes.
Education beginswith voluntary daycares, followed by the mandatory free schooling system oftwelve years and the optional attendance of college. As daycare is voluntary,families receive no direct support for enrolling their children in such aprogram. On average, cost of daycare was 10,468$ in 2016, with 1 in 3 familiesspending 20 percent or more of their household income for this type of earlyeducation (Bugbee, 2016).
As a result, many children are already excluded fromreceiving the same education as others on the first stage of the education system. The cost disproportionally excludeschildren from low income households, as parents simply cannot afford paying fordaycare. In 2012, just 45.6 percent of children from low-income familiesattended an early education program, while 72 percent of children in middleclass families did. Similarly, the education level of the parents had anegative effect on attendance rates as well. While 63.
5 percent of whitechildren participated in early education, only 51.9 percent of children with aHispanic background did. Thus, the high cost of daycare creates an inequalityamong racial lines.
(Reid, et al., 2015)The daycares are followed by the public school system. Public Elementary,Middle and High Schools are free nationwide. By dividing into districts, eachschool is assigned a community around it. Thereby the local economic contexthas large influence on the quality of schools, as funding is provided throughlocal taxes.
High school districts with high poverty rates spend an average of15.6% less per student (Semuels, 2016). Thisresults in a lower quality of education, in communities which are already indifficult situations.
While students in rich neighborhoods will enjoy specialcounselors, modern equipment and especially qualified teachers, students inpoor communities will not experience such support. As nationwide standardizedtests determine chances to receive a place in college, students fromdisenfranchised communities are less likely to move on to college as they areless prepared. The effect of funding on the quality of education was analyzedby the Federal Bureau of Education, with results underlining the positiverelationship. A 20 percent increase of spending per student results in studentspursuing an average of one additional year of education, 25 percent higherearnings in the future professional career and a reduction of 20 percent in therisk of becoming poor (Semuels, 2016).
While87 percent of white students graduate from high school, only 76 percent ofHispanics and 73 percent of African Americans do (Brownstein, 2016). The dataindicates that the inequality in quality of education and the resultingopportunities continues, even after the free public schooling system. In 2016 the averagecost for attending a public university was 24,610$ a year. As there is no freeoption to obtain a college degree and cost are continuously rising, theexclusion of students continues.
While 15 percent of college-aged Americanswere African-Americans, only 6 percent attended college (Ashkenas et al., 2017).In a long-term study the University of Georgetown analyzed the effect ofvarying levels of education on lifetime earnings. According to a study a personwith a bachelors degree will make on average 74 percent more money than aperson with only a high school diploma (Carnevale et al.
, 2011). In summary, theAmerican education system divides from the start on between those who canafford education and live in wealthy communities and those who cannot pay foradditional services and live in disenfranchised areas. Parents that can pay fordaycare are likely to live in better neighborhoods, so their children will goon well-equipped high schools and have good chances to get a place in collegethat their parents can pay for. Children with parents earning not as much willnot go to daycare, attend school in a poor district and might not even finishtheir schooling with a high school diploma.
The relation of money to thequality of education has a large negative effect on economic opportunities andsets strong class boundaries. As the household income of African-Americans andHispanics are significantly lower, the education system disadvantages them. The Segregation ofJob Markets: The Food Service Sector The United States of America are knownfor their diverse food culture. Especially in the fast food sector Americanbrands such as McDonalds, Burger King and Subway have emerged as global playerswhile being present in almost every local community. The Food Service Sector isnot limited to a region and includes a great variety of different businessesfrom fast food chains to high-level dining restaurants. This diversity makesthe food service sector an interesting subject to analyze regarding racialsegregation. The food service sector employs around 11 Million people and isone of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Historically,African Americans have been working in low paid professions in the tertiarysector as cleaning ladies, nannies, or waiters.
While 66 percent of today’slabor force is white, only 55 percent of the positions in the food servicesector are occupied by workers with this background. Interestingly, Latinosmake up 16 percent of the workforce but represent 25 percent of the employeesin the food service sector (ROC United, 2014). The tertiary sector still offersmany low paid jobs today and the food service sector illustrates this fact, asseven of the ten lowest paid positions in the United States of today are partof it (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Within this already precarious sectorthe chance of being hired, holding management positions and the received incomeare heavily affected by racial background. The segregation begins with the chanceof having an interview and being hired for a position in the food servicesector.
Research suggests that white applicants have a higher chance to beinvited for an interview in a fine-dining restaurant and are almost twice aslikely to be hired for a position, that an equally qualified person of colorapplied for (ROC United, 2014). An analysis of the employment structure of finedining establishments revealed that 78 percent of higher level positions withfrequent customer contact were filled with white employees, the rate being evenhigher at 81 percent for management positions (ROC United, 2014). Theinequality continues with different incomes. As described above, minoritieshave less chance to earn high school and college degrees which result in higherwages.
Research shows that, even when adjusting for this difference betweenracial backgrounds, the income of persons of color is less by 56 percentcompared to equally qualified white colleagues in the food service sector (ROCUnited, 2014). As a direct result, African-American employees are likely toexperience poverty twice as much as their white colleagues (Shierholz, 2014).Inequalities become less prevalent but still exist in the fast food sector. Minorities are less likely to bemanagers, thus mobility within the food service sector is very low. Here,racial background has a direct effect on social mobility. In a survey, 28percent of participants cited race as a source for being denied a promotion(ROC United, 2014).
Therefore, it becomes difficult to leave ones class throughhard work and pursuing a career in the food service sector. In summary, the food service sector inthe United States, ranging from expensive restaurants as well as cheap fastfood places, shows great inequality when being analyzed with regards to racialbackgrounds. Minorities are more likely to work in this industry, in which mostemployees are working in precarious conditions. Employees belonging to aminority are less likely to be hired in fine dining establishments, have alower chance of being or becoming a manager and make less money even whenequally qualified as a white colleague.
Climbing up the job ladder is not verylikely thus class affiliations are cemented and social mobility is decreased. Allof these factors increase the chance of having a job and still experiencingpoverty, with almost no chance to improve this situation. Conclusion Theconcept of intersectionality raises awareness for the diverse backgroundspresent in every individual. Making claims about aggregate groups in the fieldof sociology result in generalized statements which hold not true for everyindividual touched by them.
This also holds true for this essay. One should beaware, that not all claims made in this essay are true for every person in theUnited States today. Still, the research shows strong evidences and therefore itis valid to draw some conclusions. At the beginning of the education systemstands the first impact of inequality. Daycare in the United States is veryexpensive and not subsidized by the government. Therefore, only parents with ahigher income can afford to send their children to daycare. As the averagehousehold income of minorities is lower, inequality is created as children fromthis background are less likely to receive educational input from an early ageon.
Even though the public schooling system is free, the inequality continues.Schools are mostly funded by the communities surrounding them, therefore poorneighborhoods have schools with limited resources, thereby creating adisadvantage for the already underprivileged students attending them. High costof attending college solidify the lower chances for young adults, who cannotpay the high tuitions. At the end of the educational career, segregation byrace is strongly present due to the named factors.
This has a high impact onthe professional career and social mobility, as the food service sectorillustrates. Even though the sector is growing rapidly and offers openpositions on all levels, minorities are disadvantaged. They are less likely toreceive a job, less likely to be promoted and earn a lower salary than theirwhite colleagues with the same qualifications. As a result, they are morelikely to experience poverty and have a lower social mobility. The information gathered from scientistssupports the hypothesis stated at the beginning of this paper. The racialbackground of an individual has a high impact on economic opportunities andclass affiliation.
An education system which relies on local and personalfounding disadvantages everyone, who cannot afford to pay extra. Less educationresults in less economic opportunities and decreases the chance to move up aclass. Analyzing the current situation in the food service sector shows howinequality continues and how the stated hypothesis holds true. In the United States of today, the ideal of the American Dream, that one canachieve anything through hard labor, is not true anymore for those, who are putat a disadvantage through their racial background.