Introduction and holds true for women. Nonetheless, the

Introduction

 

The ethos known as the American Dream is
defined as “set of ideals stating that in the United States freedom includes
opportunities to obtain prosperity, success, and upward social mobility through
hard work no matter what an individual’s racial, religious, or economic
background is.” (Eliassen, 2014). According to this ideal, everyone who pursues
wealth can reach it, regardless of any type of background or personal context
the person is coming from. Even before the widening of the wealth gap in
response to various economic crisis and developments in the United States of
America, it is questionable whether the American Dream has always been a
reality for all groups. For example, research suggests that it has been more
likely for African-Americans to move downward then upward on the scale of
income distribution, when born between the 1950s and 1980s (Mazumder, 2014). From
the perspective of gender, it is also questionable whether the American Dream
held and holds true for women. Nonetheless, the ethos still prevails not only
in the United States of America, but around the whole world as universal belief
in the power of an individual’s freedom within a capitalist system.

This paper will explore the question to
what extent and how racial background influences economic opportunities and
class affiliation in the United States of America today. The term race will be
used in the following as referring to a “socially constructed category of
classifying members of a society on the basis of a few arbitrarily selected
physical or biological traits, such as skin color or eye shape” (Garcia, 2014).
The economic opportunities of the various races in the United States are assessed
by their social mobility, or “the
movement or opportunities for movement between different social classes or
occupational groups, and the advantages and disadvantages that go with this in
terms of income, security of employment, opportunities for advancement and so
on” (Aldridge, 2003). The division in classes of wealth is undertaken by
focusing on the income of a household. Low class households have less than two
thirds of the median income, upper class households have more than double the
median with the middle class laying in between (Pew Research Center, 2015). As
for today the median wealth of a white household is thirteen times higher than
the one of an African-American one, as well as ten times as high as the one of
a Hispanic household (Pew Research Center, 2015). Analyzing the current
distribution of wealth suggests the hypothesis, that racial background heavily
influences economic opportunities and thereby class affiliation. In the
following this claim will be assessed from an intersectionalist perspective by
analyzing the impact of the American education system on social mobility and
the resulting segregation of American job markets with focus on the food
service industry.

Intersectionality

 

The question how and to what extent race
has an influence on economic opportunities and class affiliation involves
different variables within the field of sociology and their influence on each
other, therefore they should not be analyzed individually. Intersectionality is
a concept that challenges aggregate claims about privilege and oppression and
attempts to focus on a broader context when making claims about groups (Garcia,
2015). An upper class male person of color will have very different experiences
than a female person of color in the working class with low income, even though
they might belong share one affiliation with a common group. This concept is
important to keep in mind in the following, as claims are made about large
groups that might not hold true in the context of every individual.

 

The American
Education System

 

At the beginning of a
successful and prosperous life stands the education one receives. It is widely
accepted that education is a key to improve living conditions and to move up the
social ladder. Research has shown that educational expansion has increased the
share of population with college degrees, thereby increasing social mobility in
the United States (Pfeffer and Hertel, 2015). Thus, access to college education
becomes an important factor in gaining economic opportunities. In the following
the relation between race and educational opportunities will be analyzed.

 

The American education
system is not federally controlled, resulting in varying characteristics by state.
In general, the federal government does not provide large portions of funding
to all levels of education. The state and local governments are obliged to
provide funds for education through grants and raising taxes. Education begins
with voluntary daycares, followed by the mandatory free schooling system of
twelve years and the optional attendance of college. As daycare is voluntary,
families receive no direct support for enrolling their children in such a
program. On average, cost of daycare was 10,468$ in 2016, with 1 in 3 families
spending 20 percent or more of their household income for this type of early
education (Bugbee, 2016). As a result, many children are already excluded from
receiving the same education as others on the first stage of the education system. The cost disproportionally excludes
children from low income households, as parents simply cannot afford paying for
daycare. In 2012, just 45.6 percent of children from low-income families
attended an early education program, while 72 percent of children in middle
class families did. Similarly, the education level of the parents had a
negative effect on attendance rates as well. While 63.5 percent of white
children participated in early education, only 51.9 percent of children with a
Hispanic background did. Thus, the high cost of daycare creates an inequality
among 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, each
school is assigned a community around it. Thereby the local economic context
has large influence on the quality of schools, as funding is provided through
local taxes. High school districts with high poverty rates spend an average of
15.6% less per student (Semuels, 2016). This
results in a lower quality of education, in communities which are already in
difficult situations. While students in rich neighborhoods will enjoy special
counselors, modern equipment and especially qualified teachers, students in
poor communities will not experience such support. As nationwide standardized
tests determine chances to receive a place in college, students from
disenfranchised communities are less likely to move on to college as they are
less prepared. The effect of funding on the quality of education was analyzed
by the Federal Bureau of Education, with results underlining the positive
relationship. A 20 percent increase of spending per student results in students
pursuing an average of one additional year of education, 25 percent higher
earnings in the future professional career and a reduction of 20 percent in the
risk of becoming poor (Semuels, 2016). While
87 percent of white students graduate from high school, only 76 percent of
Hispanics and 73 percent of African Americans do (Brownstein, 2016). The data
indicates that the inequality in quality of education and the resulting
opportunities continues, even after the free public schooling system.

 

In 2016 the average
cost for attending a public university was 24,610$ a year. As there is no free
option to obtain a college degree and cost are continuously rising, the
exclusion of students continues. While 15 percent of college-aged Americans
were African-Americans, only 6 percent attended college (Ashkenas et al., 2017).
In a long-term study the University of Georgetown analyzed the effect of
varying levels of education on lifetime earnings. According to a study a person
with a bachelors degree will make on average 74 percent more money than a
person with only a high school diploma (Carnevale et al., 2011).

 

In summary, the
American education system divides from the start on between those who can
afford education and live in wealthy communities and those who cannot pay for
additional services and live in disenfranchised areas. Parents that can pay for
daycare are likely to live in better neighborhoods, so their children will go
on well-equipped high schools and have good chances to get a place in college
that their parents can pay for. Children with parents earning not as much will
not go to daycare, attend school in a poor district and might not even finish
their schooling with a high school diploma. The relation of money to the
quality of education has a large negative effect on economic opportunities and
sets strong class boundaries. As the household income of African-Americans and
Hispanics are significantly lower, the education system disadvantages them.

 

The Segregation of
Job Markets: The Food Service Sector

 

The United States of America are known
for their diverse food culture. Especially in the fast food sector American
brands such as McDonalds, Burger King and Subway have emerged as global players
while being present in almost every local community. The Food Service Sector is
not limited to a region and includes a great variety of different businesses
from fast food chains to high-level dining restaurants. This diversity makes
the food service sector an interesting subject to analyze regarding racial
segregation. The food service sector employs around 11 Million people and is
one 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 tertiary
sector as cleaning ladies, nannies, or waiters. While 66 percent of today’s
labor force is white, only 55 percent of the positions in the food service
sector are occupied by workers with this background. Interestingly, Latinos
make up 16 percent of the workforce but represent 25 percent of the employees
in the food service sector (ROC United, 2014). The tertiary sector still offers
many low paid jobs today and the food service sector illustrates this fact, as
seven of the ten lowest paid positions in the United States of today are part
of it (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Within this already precarious sector
the chance of being hired, holding management positions and the received income
are heavily affected by racial background.

The segregation begins with the chance
of having an interview and being hired for a position in the food service
sector. Research suggests that white applicants have a higher chance to be
invited for an interview in a fine-dining restaurant and are almost twice as
likely to be hired for a position, that an equally qualified person of color
applied for (ROC United, 2014). An analysis of the employment structure of fine
dining establishments revealed that 78 percent of higher level positions with
frequent customer contact were filled with white employees, the rate being even
higher at 81 percent for management positions (ROC United, 2014). The
inequality continues with different incomes. As described above, minorities
have less chance to earn high school and college degrees which result in higher
wages. Research shows that, even when adjusting for this difference between
racial backgrounds, the income of persons of color is less by 56 percent
compared to equally qualified white colleagues in the food service sector (ROC
United, 2014). As a direct result, African-American employees are likely to
experience 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 be
managers, thus mobility within the food service sector is very low. Here,
racial background has a direct effect on social mobility. In a survey, 28
percent of participants cited race as a source for being denied a promotion
(ROC United, 2014). Therefore, it becomes difficult to leave ones class through
hard work and pursuing a career in the food service sector.

In summary, the food service sector in
the United States, ranging from expensive restaurants as well as cheap fast
food places, shows great inequality when being analyzed with regards to racial
backgrounds. Minorities are more likely to work in this industry, in which most
employees are working in precarious conditions. Employees belonging to a
minority are less likely to be hired in fine dining establishments, have a
lower chance of being or becoming a manager and make less money even when
equally qualified as a white colleague. Climbing up the job ladder is not very
likely thus class affiliations are cemented and social mobility is decreased. All
of these factors increase the chance of having a job and still experiencing
poverty, with almost no chance to improve this situation.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The
concept of intersectionality raises awareness for the diverse backgrounds
present in every individual. Making claims about aggregate groups in the field
of sociology result in generalized statements which hold not true for every
individual touched by them. This also holds true for this essay. One should be
aware, that not all claims made in this essay are true for every person in the
United States today. Still, the research shows strong evidences and therefore it
is valid to draw some conclusions.

At the beginning of the education system
stands the first impact of inequality. Daycare in the United States is very
expensive and not subsidized by the government. Therefore, only parents with a
higher income can afford to send their children to daycare. As the average
household income of minorities is lower, inequality is created as children from
this background are less likely to receive educational input from an early age
on. Even though the public schooling system is free, the inequality continues.
Schools are mostly funded by the communities surrounding them, therefore poor
neighborhoods have schools with limited resources, thereby creating a
disadvantage for the already underprivileged students attending them. High cost
of attending college solidify the lower chances for young adults, who cannot
pay the high tuitions. At the end of the educational career, segregation by
race is strongly present due to the named factors. This has a high impact on
the professional career and social mobility, as the food service sector
illustrates. Even though the sector is growing rapidly and offers open
positions on all levels, minorities are disadvantaged. They are less likely to
receive a job, less likely to be promoted and earn a lower salary than their
white colleagues with the same qualifications. As a result, they are more
likely to experience poverty and have a lower social mobility.

The information gathered from scientists
supports the hypothesis stated at the beginning of this paper. The racial
background of an individual has a high impact on economic opportunities and
class affiliation. An education system which relies on local and personal
founding disadvantages everyone, who cannot afford to pay extra. Less education
results in less economic opportunities and decreases the chance to move up a
class. Analyzing the current situation in the food service sector shows how
inequality continues and how the stated hypothesis holds true.

In the United States of today, the ideal of the American Dream, that one can
achieve anything through hard labor, is not true anymore for those, who are put
at a disadvantage through their racial background.