Civil Rights 101


Minorities by the Numbers

PRELIMINARY CENSUS BUREAU estimates of the results of the 2000 Census indicate that the numbers of minorities in the United States are growing - and at a rate greater than that of the population as a whole.

FOR EXAMPLE, the Census Bureau reports that there are currently 35.4 million African Americans in the United States, comprising 12.5 percent of the total population (up from 30 million and 12.1 percent in 1990). This 16 percent growth in the African American population since 1990 exceeds the growth rate of the American population as a whole, which grew by 10.7 percent overall.

LATINOS now number approximately 35.3 million people, or 12.5 percent of the U.S. population (up considerably from 22.4 million and 9 percent of the total population in 1990). Indeed, the Latino community is responsible for 38 percent of the growth in the total U.S. population from 1990 to 2000. The number of Latinos is projected to triple by the year 2050 (then comprising 24 percent of the total population); Latinos are projected to become the nation's largest minority group by 2005.

ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDERS (APIs), numbering 11.3 million, are nearly 4 percent of the U.S. population (up significantly from 7.3 million and 2.9 percent in 1990). Asian and Pacific Islanders experienced the highest rate of population growth -- 45 percent -- of any racial or ethnic group from 1990 to 2000. The API population is also projected to triple by 2050 (to then make up 9 percent of the total U.S. population).

THE AMERICAN INDIAN AND ALASKAN NATIVE population is estimated at 2.5 million, or just under 1 percent of the total U.S. population (up from 2 million in 1990). The Native American population has also grown more rapidly over the last decade -- by 18 percent -- than that of the United States as a whole.

THESE GROWTH RATES demonstrate that minorities have -- and will continue to -- provide much of the growth in the American labor force for years to come. Our economy simply will not run without their contributions. For example, the National Council of La Raza estimates that 40 percent of new jobs are filled by Latino workers, and that this rate will only increase over the decades.

INDEED, members of minority groups are also younger on average than white Americans. For example, according to 2000 Census Bureau Population Estimates, the median age for whites is 37, while that for African Americans is 30.4, Asian and Pacific Islanders 32.1, American Indians and Alaskan Natives 27.8, and Latinos 26.6

NOTE THAT many dispute these Census Bureau figures as actually understating the number of minorities in America today. A number of analysts believe the census includes a significant undercount, especially of minorities, children, and the poor. In the 1990 Census, for example, the General Accounting Office concluded that there was a net undercount of 4 million people, disproportionately minorities. In all, 4.4 percent of African Americans were missed, 5 percent of Latinos, 2.3 percent of Asian Americans, and 4.5 percent of American Indians and Alaskan Natives (including 12.2 percent of those who live on reservations)-- compared to an undercount of only .7 percent of white Americans in 1990.

IN EARLY 2001, the Census Bureau conceded the existence of a substantial undercount, but recommended against the use of adjusted results from the 2000 Census arguing that it had run out of time to complete an analysis of and remedy for the undercount. Because Census data is used to make so many key decisions about redistricting and the distribution of government services, the failure to make adjustments to address the undercount means that people of color, children, and the poor will be underrepresented in the electoral system, denied an equal voice in government, and their communities will be shortchanged in funding for education, health care, transportation, and other key benefits.

Where Minorities Live

THE MAJORITY of African Americans live in the South (54 percent), followed by the Northeast and Midwest (19 percent each), and the West (8 percent). Fifty-three percent of African Americans live in the central centers of metropolitan areas. The five states with the greatest number of African Americans in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, are New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

THOSE STATES with the largest number of Latinos in 1999 were California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and New Jersey.

MOST ASIAN AMERICANS (53 percent) live in the West. The states with the largest number of APIs are California, New York, Hawaii, Texas, and New Jersey.

ONE HALF of all American Indians and Alaskan Natives live in the Western states. Those with the largest numbers are California, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington.

Family and Living Arrangements

ACCORDING TO THE CENSUS BUREAU's 2000 Current Population Survey data, 48 percent percent of African American families are married-couple families, 44 percent are female-headed families, and eight percent are headed by a single male. 84 percent of white families are married-couple families, 11 percent are female-headed, and 5 percent headed by a male with no wife present.

EIGHTY PERCENT OF ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER HOUSEHOLDS are headed by married couples; 13 percent are female-headed, and 7 percent are headed by a male with no wife present.

AM0NG LATIN0S, 2000 Current Population Survey data shows that 68 percent are married-couple families; 23 percent are maintained by a female head-of-household, and 8 percent headed by a single male.

2000 PROJECTIONS also indicate that 65 percent of American Indians belong to married-couple families, with 26 percent in female-headed households, and 9 percent in households headed by a single male.

Some Economic Indicators

ECONOMIC STATISTICS suggest degrees of relative well-being and may point to areas of persistent discrimination and bias. In general, economic indicators improved for all racial and ethnic groups throughout the 1990s. These trends will require close observation, however, as economic conditions fluctuate. Moreover, despite improvements, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have disproportionately lower incomes, and disproportionately higher unemployment and poverty rates than their white counterparts.


ASIAN AMERICANS have the highest median income of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States: in 1999, the Census Bureau reports API median income to be $51,200 (up from $41,200 in 1991). The 1999 median family income for all white families was $42,500 (up from $36,900 in 1991), compared with $27,900 for African American families (up from $21,400), $30,700 for Hispanic families (up from $23,400), and $30,800 for American Indians and Native Alaskans.

MINORITIES DID NOT APPEAR to receive the same return from their investment in education compared to their white counterparts. For example, according to 1999 Current Population Survey data, white workers 18 years and older with a high school degree and working full-time earned a median income of $26,800, while those with a college degree earned $48,800. Meanwhile, their black counterparts with a high school degree earned only $22,900, and those with a college degree $38,600. Latino high school graduates working full-time reported a median income of $21,500 and college graduates $39,300. Asian and Pacific Islanders reported a median income of $22,600 for those with a high school diploma, and $40,500 for those with an undergraduate degree.


1999 CURRENT POPULATION SURVEY data concluded that 32.3 million Americans were poor, for a national poverty rate of 11.8 percent -- the lowest level since 1979. The African American poverty rate was 23.6 percent (down from 31.9 percent in 1990); Native Americans had a 25.9 percent rate (down from 30.9 percent), Latinos were poor at a rate of 22.8 percent (down from 28.1 percent), while Asians and Pacific Islanders had a 10.7 percent poverty rate (down from 12.2 percent in 1990). Just under eight percent of whites -- 7.7 percent -- were below the poverty line, down from a 10.7 percent rate in 1990. (In 1999, the poverty line was set at $17,029.)


EVEN IN TIMES OF DECLINING UNEMPLOYMENT, minorities are disproportionately likely to be unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the March 2001 unemployment rate was 4.3 percent. But for African Americans, it was 8.6 percent and for Latinos 6.3 percent, while the rate for white Americans was 3.7 percent.

A Health Snapshot

THE ACCESSIBILITY of quality, affordable health care sheds important light on a nation's social priorities. Again, the data suggests that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are disproportionately at risk for adverse health outcomes.

1997-1999 CENSUS BUREAU figures show that 34 percent of Latinos do not have health care insurance, as do 21.6 percent of African Americans, 20.9 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 27 percent of American Indians. In contrast, only 11.6 percent of whites are uninsured.

MORE SPECIFICALLY, Latino and African American children are disproportionately likely to lack health insurance -- according to 1999 Current Population Survey data, one out of every four Latino children and one out of every six African American kids are uninsured, compared to one out of every of 11 white children.

STILL T0 BE UNTANGLED is the relationship between health, class and race. Some recent studies suggest that the high rates of some diseases suffered by African Americans may be the result of poverty rather than race; others, like a Johns Hopkins University study on high blood pressure - a well-known affliction of African Americans - suggest that the stress of living with racial discrimination may have more to do with the higher rates found in African Americans.

IN ANY EVENT, the existence of serious health disparities among Americans of different races and ethnicities is undisputed. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services' Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health reports that in 1998, African American death rates from cardiovascular disease were 40 percent greater than those of whites; African American death rates from stroke-related illnesses were 80 percent greater.

SIMILARLY, THE INITIATIVE REPORTS that black infant mortality rates are two times that of whites; the infant mortality rate for American Indians is 50 percent more than the white rate. The diabetes rates for Latinos and American Indians are approximately double that of whites, while African Americans have a 70 percent higher rate of diabetes than whites. African Americans' death rate from cancer is 35 percent higher than that of whites.

MOREOVER, WHILE minorities make up about a quarter of the American population, they comprise 54 percent of Americans with AIDS. In 1996, AIDS death rates declined by 23 percent for Americans overall -- but blacks experienced only a 13 percent decline, and Hispanics only 20 percent.


MINORITIES CONTINUE TO MAKE important gains in educational attainment -- yet significant gaps remain, especially among African Americans and Latinos when compared to their white counterparts. For example, 2000 Current Population Survey data reports that a record 79 percent of African Americans 25 and older had completed at least high school -- a rate double that of 1970. Similarly, 17 percent of African Americans had earned at least an undergraduate degree -- also a record, and triple 1970 levels.

AMONG OTHER GROUPS, 88 percent of whites aged 25 or older had completed high school by 2000, 57 percent of Latinos, and 85 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders.

TWENTY-EIGHT PERCENT of white Americans had completed at least an undergraduate degree, compared to 44 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 11 percent of Latinos.

Law and Policy

There has never been a time in this nation's history when African Americans or others denied fundamental rights and equal opportunity have not struggled to be included in the nation's mainstream. The vision of the United States held by most Americans as a democratic and egalitarian nation sets the framework for the civil rights struggle.

In the second half of the 20th century, the nation's third branch of government - the Supreme Court - has been the site of the pivotal battles to advance the cause of equal rights and opportunities. In the face of an often hostile legislature and passive executive branch, the civil rights movement turned increasingly to the courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, to make good on the American promise. Indeed, the modern civil rights movement could well be dated from the Supreme Court's 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education, declaring school segregation to be unconstitutional and therefore illegal. That unanimous ruling sparked a host of efforts, both in the courts and other arenas, to dismantle segregation.

Over the last 50 years, the civil rights movement, often looking to the courts for support and guidelines, has broadly focused on several key issues:

  • An end to school segregation and the creation of truly equal educational opportunity;
  • An end to housing discrimination and the creation of a housing market with all neighborhoods open to all people;
  • An end to employment discrimination and the creation of an equal opportunity economy;
  • An end to discriminatory politics by making voting rights open to all Americans;
  • An end to discrimination in the administration of criminal justice.
These issues provide a barometer of the nation's progress in ending discrimination and achieving its professed ideal of a society where each person has an equal opportunity for a full and productive life.

This Guide gives you easy access to the historical events, political acts and policy decisions that provide the context for the contemporary civil rights debate.

Part One:

  • Civil Rights: A Chronology
  • Civil Rights Glossary
  • Demographics

Part Two:

  • Law and Policy
  • Supreme Court and Civil Rights
  • School Desegregation
  • Housing
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Affirmative Action
  • Voting
  • Criminal Justice

Part Three:

  • Civil Rights Expanded
  • Women
  • People with Disabilities
  • Gays and Lesbians
  • Native Americans
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Civil liberties
  • Labor movement
  • Asians
  • Latinos

Part Four:

  • Race, Class and Economic Justice