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Racial and Ethnicity Inequality


Racial and ethnic inequality in health care, education, housing, and employment is a national issue in the U.S. despite the legislative prohibition of these forms of discrimination. According to Hahn et al. (2018), the root cause of “historical and ethnic … inequities” in the United States “are found in the societal distribution of resources and power” (p. 18). Thus, the black population and native Americans were excluded from the Constitutional privileges and rights for a long time. Although this situation improved substantially, wealth and net worth inequity still exist in the U.S., which is apparent when comparing different ethnicities and races (Yearby, 2018). Resources and opportunities are not equally distributed between the dominant group and the minorities.

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This national problem is exacerbated by the lack of universal access to healthcare and housing for different racial and ethnic groups. The rate of homeowners among African Americans is almost 1.5 times lower than among the white population (Yearby, 2018). Similarly, inequality is almost inevitably a prerequisite for poor health because racial segregation affects food quality sold in black neighborhoods and influences where they receive medical care (Yearby, 2018). It appears that racial and ethnic discrimination is a historic problem in the United States that was caused by unequal power and resource distribution, leading to conflicts that persist.

History: Legislation

Racial and ethnic discrimination was evident early in American history, but the situation improved gradually, providing equality to all citizens. The 1791s Bill of Rights announced the protection of people’s rights; however, it included only the white male population of the United States (Hahn et al., 2018). Although several amendments were made to the Constitution to provide coverage for ethnic minorities, racial segregation in healthcare and education continued until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Indeed, it allowed the non-white population to receive equal employment opportunities in 1972 and access to Medicare in 1966 (Hahn et al., 2018). It seems that certain ethnic and racial groups were deprived of fundamental human rights for a long time. Still, social change became possible due to the brave actions of soldiers and politicians during the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, enabling the abolition of slavery and equal rights for individuals of all races.

History: Census

Racial and ethnic inequity could be seen in the classification utilized in the census throughout American history. The first census that was conducted in 1790 included only two categories: black and white (Strmic-Pawl et al., 2018). The problem of defining ethnicities and races persisted at the beginning of the twentieth century. The situation improved in 1977, when the Census Bureau introduced five categories, including Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and Non-Hispanic Whites (Strmic-Pawl et al., 2018). Furthermore, the recent changes to this classification allowed distinguishing people from the Middle East and North Africa as separate groups (Strmic-Pawl et al., 2018). Nevertheless, alteration in ethnic categories did not seem to remove the issues of inequality because this problem is beyond grouping by the Census Bureau.

Current Impact: Income

Racial and ethnic social stratification affects black citizens’ earnings and employment. Indeed, the annual income of African Americans was always twice as low as that of White Americans (Figure 1). For example, in 1967, an average black household earned less than $25,000 per year, while Caucasians had a yearly income of almost $45,000 (Yearby, 2018). As can be seen on the chart, this trend remained in 1987 and 2014. The leading cause of this gap is the higher unemployment rate among African Americans than white citizens (Yearby, 2018). Furthermore, it appears that black people are paid less despite the 1963s Equal Pay Act (Yearby, 2018). Indeed, according to Yearby (2018), “racial discrimination in hiring persists, and research shows that there has been no change in racial discrimination in hiring for the last 25 years” (p. 1126). To exemplify, candidates with African American names were found to receive 50% fewer calls from hiring managers than those with white-sounding names (Yearby, 2018). It appears that many employers support the functionalist’s theory that demands minority groups to completely assimilate with the dominant group, losing their cultural identity.

Current Impact: Healthcare

Racial and ethnic inequality in health care is also a concerning issue in the United States. For instance, 22% of African Americans avoid visiting medical institutions, which means that they may fail to receive timely assessment, treatment, or prevention (Yearby, 2018). As presented in Figure 2, about 32% of black people reported that they experienced some form of racial discrimination by healthcare practitioners (Yearby, 2018). Moreover, it was found that African Americans are less likely to be offered coronary bypass surgery or kidney transplantation than Caucasians (Yearby, 2018). Social stratification by race and ethnicity is an ongoing problem in American hospitals that can only be resolved by neutralizing various factors that contribute to the cultivation of ethnic and racial discrimination in modern times.

Competition Theory

Competition theory views ethnic and racial inequality through the lens of economic issues and power struggles. Indeed, according to J. Feagin & C. Feagin (2019), competition between various racial and ethnic groups occurs because they all want to have access to the same scarce resources. Therefore, ethnic solidarity is a product of collaboration to receive these resources, while competition between ethnicities may result in conflict (J. Feagin & C. Feagin, 2019). It appears that resistance to accepting different races may stem from an evolutionary mechanism to preserve limited goods to ensure the survival of those who are phenotypically similar to them. This lever seems to cause discrimination and violence towards minorities. However, this behavior is not justifiable in a civilized society with high economic, scientific, and technological development.

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In summary, racial and ethnic inequality seems to remain a national problem in the United States. On average, non-dominant racial and ethnic groups have lower incomes and less access to medical services than white Americans. As the competition theory suggests, discrimination and inequity are caused by competition between different groups for scarce resources; however, this issue should be resolved collectively. It means that people should stop identifying dominant or minority categories and view themselves as a whole nation, striving to achieve the same goals.


Feagin, J. R., & Feagin, C. B. (2019). Theoretical perspectives in race and ethnic relations. In F.L. Pincus & H.J. Ehrich (Eds.) Race and ethnic conflict (2nd ed., pp. 41-60). Routledge.

Hahn, R. A., Truman, B. I., & Williams, D. R. (2018). Civil rights as determinants of public health and racial and ethnic health equity: Health care, education, employment, and housing in the United States. SSM-Population Health, 4, 17-24. Web.

Strmic-Pawl, H. V., Jackson, B. A., & Garner, S. (2018). Race counts: Racial and ethnic data on the U.S. Census and the implications for tracking inequality. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 4(1), 1-13. Web.

Yearby, R. (2018). Racial disparities in health status and access to healthcare: The continuation of inequality in the United States due to structural racism. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 77(3-4), 1113-1152. Web.

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