AARP cards come in the mail around age 50, which is earlier than most of us want to see that we are officially “old enough” to be members of the American Association of Retired People. Yet we accept the benefits, like discounts, special shopping days and hours, and cheaper home and auto insurance rates. Membership provides access, which eases some of the financial burdens, whether we are actually retired from working, or not. In a similar way, we enjoy the benefits of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which turns 55 on July 2, 2019, and has provided easier access to voting booths, to hotel and restaurants, to government offices, public schools, jobs, and federally funded programs.

What is it?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“1964 CRA”) is comprehensive federal antidiscrimination legislation that applied based on race, color, religion, and national origin. In Gallup polls conducted in a few months after the 1964 CRA passed, a majority of those surveyed said that they approved of the civil rights legislation. In a 1999 survey, the 1964 CRA ranked as the fifth most important event of that century.i While the goals of this broad civil rights legislation were and remain laudable, and progress has been made in the last 55 years, at each anniversary someone asks, “What else remains to be done?” The answer seems to still be, “A lot.”

Many are familiar with its Title VII, which bans discrimination by employers, and Title VI, which provides for nondiscrimination when distributing federal funds. Those who have had their AARP cards for a while may also recall Title II, which prohibits discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues. In addition, Title I addressed voting rights, Title III required the desegregation of public facilities and Title IV addressed desegregation of public schools. Title V created the Commission on Civil Rights.ii This article focuses on the impacts of four main aspects of the 1964 CRA: public education and employment opportunities directly included in its language, and the related benefits of housing and income opportunities.

What was the point of the 1964 CRA?

The legislative history supports the view that congressional intent was to provide equal opportunities: (1) for children in the public school systems after the Supreme Court-ordered desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education had yielded little, and (2) to ensure that employees were not limited to particular jobs because of their race but rather on their individual qualifications. The third area, housing opportunity, while not specifically mandated by the 1964 CRA, was impacted by Title VI’s prohibition of discrimination in federally-assisted programs like Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration loans. In a similar vein, the fourth area of income opportunity is related to expanding educational and employment opportunities.

At a certain level, promises have been kept. For instance, people of all races can attend free public schools, can be hired for most jobs by most employers, can live in whatever neighborhood they can afford, and can become millionaires. The reality on the ground is somewhat disappointing.

Net worth is a function of education, employment, income, investments and appreciation. In 1967, median income for blacks was $24,700 compared to $44,700 for whites (adjusted to reflect 2014 dollars). So where are we now? The median wealth of all White households in 2016 dollars was about $140,000 (the price of a house in many areas outside of California) and for Black households was about $15,000 (the price of a small car). On the income front, median household income for Asians was $81,000, Whites was about $68,000, while for Blacks it was about $40,000, and Hispanics $50,000. Some scholars have concluded that “next to no progress has been made in closing the black-white income gap,” nor in reducing the wealth inequalities between black and white households.iii

One key component of employment opportunities became affirmative action programs. However, a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that while 75% of people feel that it is important for companies and organizations to promote racial and ethnic diversity in their workplace, 74% say that on decisions about hiring and promotions, employers should consider qualifications only, “even if it results in less diversity.”iv

So where are we now?

We see the results of this view in a recent Workplace Diversity Report, which shows that Black workers are under-represented (in terms of their percentages in the available population) in all industries except food services, and Hispanics are significantly over-represented in construction and personal services. When it comes to promotion and supervising, that same study found that supervisors have higher percentages of direct reports who share their racial or ethnic group, so diversifying supervisor and management roles has an impact on the promotion pipeline. However, 71% of supervisors and managers in their study were White, and 84% of White employees directly reported to a White supervisor; 79% of the CEOs/Founders of the mid-sized companies surveyed were White, and 81% were male, with 1% Black, and 4 % Hispanic, and 11% Asian.v

On the schooling issue, more than half of those polled in 2019 prefer that students go to school in their local community rather than in schools that are racially and ethnically mixed. Schools in many California districts are largely so-called de facto segregated. This brings us back to the education issue because those who live in high poverty neighborhoods and attend those neighborhood schools do not have the resources needed to give them adequate, and certainly not equal, educational

Education levels impact poverty. For instance, in 1964, 4.7% of Blacks and 10% of whites had a college degree, and 27% of Black and 51% of Whites had completed high school. In 2017, over 23% of Blacks and 36% of Whites have a college degree, 93% of Whites have completed high school, as did about 88% of Blacks and 67% of Hispanics. 24.5% of adults over 25 who have not completed high school are in poverty, while only 4.8% of those with a college degree are in poverty. The poverty rates are about double for Blacks (21%) and Hispanics (18%) over Whites (8.7%) and Asians (10%).vii

On the housing issue, in California, many people, especially those in the middle class, enhance their net worth through real property purchases. In 2019, the majority of Americans surveyed said that they liked the current racial mix of their neighborhoods and only a small minority would prefer a more (or less) racially mixed neighborhood—even those who live in neighborhoods that are the most homogenous.viii In 2018, about half of Blacks and 40% of Latinos lived in neighborhoods with virtually no white presence.ix For those who do manage to purchase a house, there is an “appreciation gap,” such that property values appreciate more over time for homes in homogenous White neighborhoods than they do in racially diverse or mixed neighborhoods.x

On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 CRA, the majority of Blacks surveyed thought additional civil rights legislation and a greater government role were needed, while the majority of White respondents did not. In a 2019 poll, a majority agreed that racial and ethnic diversity is very good for the country, and has a “positive impact on the country’s culture,” but a large percentage also felt that “diversity makes it harder for policymakers to solve problems.”xi What remains to be done? A lot. Access matters, but it is not enough.

ii Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241 (1964). Some of the lesser known provisions include Title VIII, which applies to registration and statistical record-keeping in the voting area, the original Title IX (which provided for review of certain petitions and Attorney General intervention), and Title X, which established a Community Relations Service to address claims and concerns over desegregation issues.
iii Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016 (June 2018), at pp. 4, 25-26, and 28.
v Namely Workplace Diversity Report 2018, at pp. 8-9, 19-20, and 44.
vi See
x Dorothy A. Brown, Homeownership in Black and White: The Role of Tax Policy in Increasing Housing Inequity, 49 Univ. of Memphis L. Rev. 205, 215 (2018), explaining that the “appreciation gap begins whenever home and neighborhood is more than 10% black and increases as the percentage of Blacks in the neighborhood increases.”