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March 25, 2022

Economic Justice

Video: Living Wage and Civil Rights

In the video above, Economic Justice Committee Co-Chair James Pierson answers the questions " Is paying people a living wage a civil right?" and "If the cost of living is going up but the minimum wage is not increasing proportionately, does that threaten a person's livelihood?",  both asked by a middle school student from Connecticut.


Q: How is life segregated in these times? Pharrelle from Nevada

A: Segregation is when the law requires the separation of different individuals in all spheres of life; separate schools, separate entrances, separate train compartments, separate bathrooms, water fountains, etc. There should be no doubt that, today, segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin are illegal in the United States and in most parts of the world. This has been the case for well over half a century. 

Segregation was outlawed by a series of laws that were passed as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In certain spaces, segregation was banned even earlier by Court decisions such as the Brown v. Board of Education, issued in 1954 that prohibited school segregation in the United States. Even prior to this, the Supreme Court had issued decisions desegregating specific kinds of activities. For example, in 1948, President Harry Truman issued an Executive Order that abolished discrimination "on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin" in the United States Armed Forces. As early as 1935, certain kinds of graduate schools were forced to desegregate, as well.

In particular, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a far reaching legislation that prohibits segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Filling any gaps left behind by caselaw, the Act contains eleven “titles” that create broad prohibitions against segregation and discrimination, including in the following areas:

  • Title II prohibits segregation and discrimination against customers of certain kinds of businesses based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

  • Title III prohibits segregation and discrimination in public libraries, parks, recreational places, libraries, and other public facilities.

  • Title IV prohibits segregation and discrimination in public school and university systems. 

  • Title VI prohibits segregation and discrimination in federally funded programs, requiring recipients of such funding to comply with the mandate that no person “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

  • Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” by private sector and federal government employers with respect to their employees and applicants for employment. 

  • Titles VIII and IX are commonly known as the Fair Housing Act that expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and since 1974, sex.

While segregation has been outlawed, the consequences of historical segregation and the racist attitudes that made segregation possible still linger across parts of our society. As writer Keith Meatto points out:

“Racial segregation in public education has been illegal for 65 years in the United States. Yet American public schools remain largely separate and unequal — with profound consequences for students, especially students of color. Today’s teachers and students should know that the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional in the landmark 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education. Perhaps less well known is the extent to which American schools are still segregated. According to a recent Times article, “More than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.” In addition, school districts are often segregated by income. The nexus of racial and economic segregation has intensified educational gaps between rich and poor students, and between white students and students of color.” (Keith Meatto, Still Separate, Still Unequal: Teaching about School Segregation and Educational Inequality, New York Times, May 2, 2019, )

Given on-going concerns about discrimination and racial injustice, lawyers play an important role in combatting the aftermath of segregation by ensuring that Civil Rights, including the rights enshrined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are protected and enforced. 

The American Bar Association thanks you for your keen interest in this important topic. We hope that this brief answer gives you some insights and sparks more questions and greater curiosity. Most of all, we hope one day you might consider becoming a lawyer, so that you can use your powerful curiosity to help push society in a better direction.

Decreasing Poverty

Q: Is the National Government doing all that they can to decrease poverty within America? Ryann from Texas

A: The federal government could always do more but efforts are being made. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to address poverty through direct payments and housing assistance. For example, the legislation increasing the child tax credit and allowing some monthly payments instead of the lump sum annual credit is a major step in reducing child poverty. Other legislation has been introduced but not yet passed that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and impose tax penalties where CEO pay exceeds average wages by certain amounts. These and many other bills would greatly alleviate poverty but require political support of both the House and Senate to become law. 

Punishment for Redlining

Q: Laws like the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act are still violated.  Is it possible to increase the punishment for redlining? (Larger fines, jail, etc.) A high school student from Arkansas

A: Yes, these laws could be amended and/or administrative regulations adopted or amended to increase penalties for violation (e.g., redlining).  However, federal and state enforcement efforts could also be increased as a matter of government policy.

Justice and Equality

Q: Are justice and equality the same? Yohanna from Washington D.C.

A: No.  Equality in treatment and opportunity results does not address underlying or pre-existing disparities making some individuals unequally benefited.  Equity provides treatment and opportunity tailored to the needs of an individual.  Justice is achieved when the causes of inequity and inequality are addressed and removed as barriers. In other words, treating people equally does not overcome the problem of unequal policies of the past which may have lingering effects. Simply saying that everyone will now be treated the same does not level the playing field which was uneven for a long time. The concept of justice describes not only present fairness and equality of opportunity but also the elimination of the lingering effects of past inequality. 

To better understand "What's the Difference Between Equity and Equality?",  Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Chair Beth K. Whittenbury answers this question asked by a high school student from Pennsylvania in this  video on Equity and Equality on the Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity webpage.