One of the biggest social issues facing this country is discrimination, it affects us all at some point in our lives, for many, it is something they face every day, but it is not something that is limited to a few, it affects the lives of the majority of Americans.
The simple fact is if you are a black, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon atheist, gay, female, have one of the aforementioned groups in your family then you have been affected by discrimination.
Discrimination exists in the workplace, public facilities, education, healthcare, housing and more. It increases poverty, retards our economy and decreases the overall health and education of our nation.
Currently, there are several important laws on the books that are aimed at combating discrimination in the U.S.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace. (As discussed in part 5 of my 9-point plan for the economy.)
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability.
The problem with these laws are that they are not properly enforced, and even when someone is charged and convicted for violating one of these laws, the punishment is usually no more than a slap on the wrist and hardly serves as a deterrent to the crime.
One of the major reasons that these laws are not properly enforced is that, like many agencies that enforce laws that the Republican Party does not want enforced, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has seen its budget cut repeatedly over the last 30 years. The cuts have seriously impaired their ability to enforce those laws.
We need to restore funding to the EEOC, and amend these laws to increase the monetary fines, and provide for serious jail time for those who have been found guilty of the intentional or habitual violation of these laws. The laws are useless if the penalties for violating them do not act as a deterrent to doing so.
Then we need to look to other forms of discrimination.
Discrimination in education has a paralyzing effect on our economy and the health and wellbeing of our citizenry. This is clearly evident in the quality of the facilities and technology in predominately white neighborhoods compared to those neighborhoods that are predominately composed of minorities. Ensuring that all students have access to the same quality facilities is essential to the overall wellbeing of our nation. (For more information see my plan to invest in education.)
Once we provide for equality in the facilities and technology of our public schools, we need to provide for increased access to a college education and advanced job training. In part nine of my plan for the economy, I discuss my plan to make college more affordable by raising the maximum Pell grant to equal the average cost of tuition, fees and books, while changing the way the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is figured.
It is estimated that two thirds of all jobs will require a college degree or advanced job training by 2020, but according to 2010 census data, less than 40% of Americans over the age of 25 would qualify.
These are necessary steps in ensuring that our children have the education necessary to fill those jobs.
The current ‘fad’ in discrimination is state laws that would allow businesses to legally discriminate against members of the LGBT community. The problem with that is that we already have case law that should be applied to this issue.
From the reconstruction era until the 1960’s, the States passed many laws aimed at denying access to goods and services to members of the black community, but in 1964 Congress and the United States Supreme Court put an end to those laws.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and the Supreme Court ruling in the case known as Heart of Atlanta, Inc. vs United States, the court declared that the states were required to follow the provisions of the act that prohibited discrimination in public accommodations. The court stated that these laws impacted interstate commerce, which was implicitly delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.
Rather than waiting on the courts to rule on these laws, I would offer an amendment to the Civil Rights Act that would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. This would also prevent conservative courts from ruling that sexual preference and gender identity or not specifically listed in the Civil Rights Act and therefore not relevant to the ruling.
These are a few of the issues we need to address in order to end discrimination in this country, but they are not all. This is such a pervasive issue that affects all of the other issues in my 11-Point Plan for Social Justice, and we will discuss the effects as we discuss those issues.
Discrimination is a vile and ugly act that causes inequality, poverty and domestic strife. It damages our society, our economy and our people, and ending it is in the best interest of all Americans… Including those guilty of discrimination.
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