Social and Economic Issues of The 1980's and 1990's

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March on Washington 1963

From The Amistad Digital Resource

The deindustrialization of many U.S. cities had serious consequences for the African American population.  Deprived of their tax revenues from industries and manufacturing companies, city governments reduced expenditures for public institutions of all kinds—schools, hospitals, parks, libraries, public universities, and public housing. 

With the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, the new conservative administration quickly moved to reduce federal government spending on urban development and social services. The Reagan Administration terminated the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program, a successful job training program that had been funded in 1982 at $3.1 billion; eliminated $2 billion from the federal food stamps program; reduced federal support for child nutrition programs by $1.7 billion over a two-year period; and closed down the Neighborhood Self Help and Planning Assistance programs, which provided technical and financial help to inner cities. 

In the first year of the Reagan Administration, the real median income of all black families fell by 5.2 percent.  The number of Americans living below the federal government’s poverty line grew by over two million in a single year.  In 1982, over 30 percent of the total black labor force was jobless at some period during that year.  In June 1982, Congress reduced federal assistance programs by 20 percent and cut federal assistance to state and municipal governments.

poor black bed

Many middle-class blacks, confronted with the steady deterioration of public services, schools, and the elimination of jobs in central cities, relocated to the suburbs. However, because white real estate firms, banks, and financial lending institutions continued informal policies of residential discrimination, many upper- to middle-income blacks found themselves moving from segregated ghettoes to racially segregated suburbs or planned communities. Black working-class families without the material resources or credit to purchase homes outside economically depressed areas found themselves living in what, at times, had become almost urban wastelands.


Throughout the country, the total population of prisoners reached 650,000 in 1983, one million in 1990, and two million by 2001. One-half of these prisoners were African-Americans. By 2000, one-third of all black males in their twenties were under the control of the criminal justice system—either in prison or jail, on parole, probation, or awaiting trial. 

Because black women historically have been the lowest paid workers, with the highest rates of unemployment, some have been forced to depend on government subsidies to supplement their incomes, often from informal sources of work. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which severely limited government assistance to families. In the absence of guaranteed employment at wage rates that would allow households to subsist, women and children became increasingly vulnerable.

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