Weekly post: Juneteenth
What the data tells us about Juneteenth and the cumulative, intergenerational effects of slavery and systemic racism
Emily Irion is the Data Journalist Intern at OpenAxis and a graduate student at UCSD’s School of Global Policy & Strategy. As always, each visualization has a backlink to share or remix the chart and explore the dataset with tools for collaboration and crowdsourcing insights. Sign up for the OpenAxis beta here.
President Biden officially recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday in 2021. Currently, only 18 states observe it as a paid state holiday. Although this is a new national holiday, it is not new to many Black Americans who have been observing Juneteenth since its first anniversary in 1866.
Juneteenth is a day of reflection and celebration commemorating the moment when Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom for the enslaved people of Texas on June 19, 1865. According to a Gallup study, more Americans are familiar with Juneteenth this year compared to last year.
However, “familiarity” is a vague term. Some people like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” have found themselves sharing misinformation (at worst, ignorance at best) regarding the day's meaning, claiming June 19,1865, was when slavery officially ended. To uphold historical accuracy, we need to start with the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by former President Abraham Lincoln. This proclamation was implemented on January 1, 1863, declaring "that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be, free." However, it took two years for the Union army to make their way to Texas to enforce this proclamation on June 19, 1865, "Juneteenth." Six months later, the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, ending slavery in the United States. And even then, it wasn't long until the "Jim Crow" era began, enacting racial discrimination and segregation laws targeting Black Americans. (Find out more about Juneteenth, the Reconstruction Amendments, and slavery's long-lasting impacts on Black Americans here.)
Juneteenth is a reminder of the limits and power of policy in the face of white supremacy. Although slavery technically ended, the cumulative and intergenerational effects of enslavement, and impact of systemic racism, still permeate throughout society. This is evident in numerous socio-economic indicators, including the black-white wealth gap, income inequality, homeownership rates, poverty rates, mass incarceration, and reproductive health.
Income and Wealth Inequality
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “income and wealth inequality is higher in the United States than in almost any other developed country, and it is rising.” And since 1960, the median wealth of white households has tripled while the wealth of Black households have barely increased.
Taking a closer look at median household income of Black Americans and Black immigrants, the disparity gives weight to the argument that there exists cumulative, intergenerational effects of slavery and institutional racism (e.g., predatory lending) putting the former at a disadvantage to the latter.
Homeownership is a critical component of individual wealth in America, with racial disparities illustrating how wealth is distributed across demographic groups.
Homeownership rates show that Black Americans are currently the least likely group to own homes. In 2019, the overall US homeownership rate was 64.6%. Among Black Americans, it was 42.1% (effectively static for 28 years), while for Non-Hispanic White it was 74.1%.
In addition, according to the U.S. Census, in 2019 the share of Black people in poverty was 1.8 times greater than their share among the general population. Although Black people represent 13.2% of the total population in the United States, they comprise 23.8% of the poverty population.
As the graph below indicates, the United States' incarceration rate is falling. However, the U.S. still leads in the number of incarcerated people of any country in the world. According to The Sentencing Project, "Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of white people." Research finds that "at any given time, nearly 2 percent of Black individuals are imprisoned in state or federal prison, and more than a quarter of Black men experience incarceration by the time they are in their mid-30s (Western and Pettit 2010; Bronson and Carson 2019)."
A University of Chicago analysis of the legacy of slavery's impact on incarceration found that "counties with a substantial legacy of slavery are more likely to detain people charged with crimes before trial and to sentence individuals to incarceration; they also sentence individuals to a longer time behind bars." Indeed, nine of the ten states with the highest incarceration rates are former slave states in the south.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that reproductive health has also been impacted. As mentioned in my previous maternal mortality rate post, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.
The Supreme Court's recent decision overruling Roe v. Wade is expected to have a disproportionate impact on Black women and other women of color. According to CDC data, about one-third of all reported abortions are obtained by white women, and black women obtain 37%.
Recall the Tulane study that found states with more restrictive abortion policies have a 7% increase in total maternal deaths compared to states with less restrictive abortion policies. Another study published by Duke University Press found that a total abortion ban in the United States will lead to Black people experiencing the greatest increase in deaths in the first year and a 33% increase in subsequent years. A recent Reuters article points out how more Black women live in states that will likely ban abortion, leading to a disproportionate increase in deaths of Black women in childbirth.
Now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, it is likely that familiarity with it will continue to increase over time. However, as exemplified by holidays like Cinco de Mayo, the American public's understanding of these holidays does not always improve over time. Furthermore, as corporations attempt to capitalize on future Juneteenths, it's imperative for the public, specifically white people, to educate ourselves on the history and impact of this country's legacy of slavery.
Thanks for reading Data Storytelling with OpenAxis! Subscribe for free to receive new weekly posts from the community.