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The Emergence of a New Jim Crow System

Blocking health care coverage for millions of Americans

Remember that inspiring 50th birthday party for the March on Washington at the end of the summer?

Unfortunately, those moving speeches didn’t slow the emergence of a new Jim Crow system.

The Supreme Court kicked off its celebration of the occasion a month early by gutting the Voting Rights Act. Then, several states then showed their disrespect for the eternal power of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech by passing new laws making it harder for black Americans to vote.

New York City’s voters are honoring the great march’s legacy in a much more appropriate way: They’re rejecting the Big Apple’s “stop-and-frisk” racial profiling that Mayor Michael Bloomberg cherishes. While Wall Street’s casino economy has priced countless poor out of that town, stop-and-frisk has sent legions of black New Yorkers to jail.

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic hopeful to fill Bloomberg’s wingtips, is the father of a teen son named Dante with a monumental afro. Bringing his fatherly fears that Dante would be unfairly targeted by the overreach of stop-and-frisk helped de Blasio clinch the highly competitive nomination.

A poll released less than four weeks before the election makes the Democrat’s lead appear unbeatable: 67 percent of likely voters prefer him and just 23 percent intend to cast their ballots for Republican nominee Joe Lhota.

De Blasio’s lead is staggering among black New Yorkers. An overwhelming 89 percent support him and only 4 percent prefer Lhota, who has pledged that he would fight in court to preserve the parts of the stop-and-frisk program that a federal judge rejected in a mid-August ruling.

Racial economic disparity is probably going to be harder to vanquish than racist policing. White families typically bring home twice as much income as African-American and Latino families earned, according to the Urban Institute. And the racial wealth gap is much bigger. On average, white families have more than $600,000 in wealth, about six times as much as their black and Latino counterparts.

Meanwhile, 13 percent of whites live in poverty according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, compared with 35 percent of black Americans and 33 percent of Latinos.

The killer, literally, in this plot line is health insurance, another Kaiser study found. There’s a big disparity between which communities have coverage and which don’t. Before the Affordable Care Act’s key provisions began to roll out, only 13 percent of whites too young for Medicare lacked coverage, compared with 21 percent of blacks and 32 percent of Latinos.

Three and a half years ago, the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land. It has withstood Supreme Court scrutiny and misleading propaganda that tried to make the 2012 elections a referendum on health care reform. When the health insurance exchanges began to operate a few weeks back, unexpectedly high demand and low costs accompanied troubling reports about software shortcomings.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know why conservative Republicans, especially those in southern states, oppose helping millions of Americans get health care coverage?

Well, one reason is racism.

Yes, millions of the poor uninsured are white. But since a smaller percentage of whites lack coverage, compared to people of color, it’s hard not to see the racism behind the nonsensical objection to improving the quality of life by making health care coverage more universal.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.