Washington, D.C. — A new issue brief from the Center for American Progress urges policymakers to broaden their focus beyond African Americans who live in metropolitan and suburban areas, and develop a progressive agenda for African Americans in the rural South.
“African Americans encompass a significant portion of the rural parts of the South but are rarely discussed when talking about rural America. Structural racism has manifested in many ways to disadvantage rural African Americans, especially through the labor market. Addressing these issues will improve outcomes for all citizens,” said Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at CAP and author of the brief.
CAP’s brief argues that policymakers are missing the boat in two ways. First, they focus on issues and solutions aimed at African Americans that live in urban areas to the exclusion of African Americans living in rural areas. Second, they focus primarily on white Americans when they talk about issues and solutions affecting rural areas. CAP points out that the history of both explicit and structural racism has led to policies that have maintained and exacerbated racial disparities in many outcomes; in order to combat these problems and close these gaps, policymakers should call for new strategies that appeal to African American communities previously excluded, villainized, or ignored. In addition, these solutions should address the injustice visited upon these communities and put forth an agenda centered around racial and economic justice.
CAP’s issue brief calls for solutions that not only will benefit rural African Americans in the South but will also provide tangible benefits to all individuals. They include:
- Raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Many Southern states do not have a state minimum wage and instead rely on the federal minimum wage. While some cities—such as Birmingham, Alabama, and St. Louis, Missouri—have pushed for higher minimum wages, states have preempted these increases by blocking local ordinances. A recent working paper found that higher minimum wages help all groups but may disproportionately benefit African Americans relative to white Americans.
- Supporting policies that strengthen worker power. Union representation not only raises wages and provides benefits, but it also has shown to be a boon for the wealth of African Americans.
- Enacting pro-voter reforms and combating voter suppression tactics. There are many barriers to registration and voting that limit African Americans’ ability to have their voices heard. There are several pro-voter reforms that lawmakers can adopt— such as automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting—in order to empower more people, particularly people of color, to participate in the democratic process.
Click here to read “3 Ways to Improve the Outcomes for African Americans in the Rural South” by Olugbenga Ajilore.
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