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Is Austerity Racist?

People attend the Tea Party rally on Boston Common on April 14, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Tea Party Express is on a current tour through the United States ending tomorrow in Washington, D.C., on tax day.
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People attend the Tea Party rally on Boston Common on April 14, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Tea Party Express is on a current tour through the United States ending tomorrow in Washington, D.C., on tax day.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a potentially explosive piece on its Campaign Stops blog with the mild headline “The Politics of Austerity.”

The piece, by Times political writer Thomas Edsall, is — at least in part — about the racial politics of the Tea Party and austerity. And the claim it makes is that austerity is effectively racist.

Here’s how Edsall puts it:

The conservative agenda, in a climate of scarcity, racializes policymaking, calling for deep cuts in programs for the poor. The beneficiaries of these programs are disproportionately black and Hispanic. In 2009, according to census data, 50.9 percent of black households, 53.3 percent of Hispanic households, and 20.5 percent of white households received some form of means-tested government assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing.

Note that Edsal is not claiming there is a mere disparate impact or that this is a passive or accidental effect. “The conservative agenda” is actively doing something, and what it is doing is racializing policymaking.

This is subjectively untrue. I doubt that any sizable contingent of Republicans or Tea Party folks know the level of participation in means-tested government assistance of black and Hispanic households.

When they argue for cuts in programs for the poor, they have no idea the beneficiaries are so disproportionately black and Hispanic.

Where would they have learned this fact? Certainly it is not reflected in the reporting of the New York Times. A quick search through the archives of the New York Times reveals this bit of census data has never been reported by the New York Times.

Most likely, if asked about this, most Tea Partiers would greatly underestimate the level of black and Hispanic participation in things such as food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing.

To put it differently, it’s not anyone’s agenda that “racializes policymaking.” Our programs for the poor are deeply racialized regardless of anyone’s agenda.

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