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Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze.  THE CLOSING DOOR: CONSERVATIVE POLICY AND BLACK OPPORTUNITY (University of Chicago Press, 1991)

Subject: Review: Orfield (Lyle)

Date: Mon, 9 May 1994 18:05:45 -0500
From: "Lyle, Chester G." 
Subject: Review: Orfield (Lyle)

         Review of Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze
                      THE CLOSING DOOR:
             (University of Chicago Press, 1991)

                         Reviewed by:
                          Chet Lyle
                  Illinois State University

     In THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR, Kevin Phillips writes
about how conservative economic policies of the 1980's led to
a greater disparity between rich and poor.  Gary Orfield and
Carole Ashkinaze follow up on this thesis with THE CLOSING
DOOR, but with a slightly different twist.

     Orfield and Ashkinaze examine the status of blacks in
the city of Atlanta during the 1980's.  Metropolitan Atlanta
is a major center of black empowerment, they say.  It has
everything that is necessary for black progress.  For more
than a decade, two nationally prominent black mayors were in
office, and Atlanta is the home to many successful black
business leaders.  It is also the home to four black
colleges as well as many black leaders still active in civil
rights campaigns.  If the conservative economic policies were
to work anywhere, they say, they should have had met with
greater success in Atlanta than they would have anywhere

     According to Orfield and Ashkinaze, however, they did
not work.  The Eighties led to increased inequality between
rich and poor, and especially between the incomes of blacks
and whites.  Even among those few blacks who were
economically successful in Atlanta during the Eighties, most
eventually left the city for the suburbs.  These inequalities
were perpetuated by shrinking opportunities for blacks in the
areas of housing, high school education, and access to higher

     What is interesting about Orfield and Ashkinaze is that,
unlike Phillips, they fail to cite specific governmental
policies that may have led to these disparities.  They are
quick to blame the federal government for virtually every
challenge faced by Atlanta during the Eighties, but refuse to
even consider local governmental officials for their share of
the blame.  In the foreword, Andrew Young, Mayor of Atlanta
from 1981 to 1989, says: "It is important to understand how
little a mayor or a school superintendent can do about
expanding opportunities to the truly needy in the face of
federal cutbacks, taxpayer resistance, and hostile rulings
from the Supreme Court" (p.  viii).  Ironically, in the few
cases where Orfield and Ashkinaze cite Supreme Court rulings,
they are usually from the Fifties or Sixties, such as BROWN
v.  BOARD OF EDUCATION, which, if anything, helped to pave
the way for increased black opportunity.

     Mayor Young also makes some interesting remarks about
affirmative action: "...we've got to give affirmative action
a chance to work.  We've learned that in a free market
economy, the more people we put into the economy, the bigger
the economy gets.  Unfortunately, the conservatives...don't
understand that.  They believe that if we have affirmative
action and allow minorities to have a piece of the pie, we
will be depriving some of the majority and it is not so" (p.
x).  What is ironic is the fact that this vision of the job
market as a zero-sum game which Mayor Young accuses
conservatives of having is precisely the logic on which
affirmative action is based.  Perhaps it is true that when
more people are allowed access to the economy, it will grow
to accommodate them, but if this were true, why is
affirmative action necessary in the first place?  Affirmative
action adherents hold the same views that Mayor Young
criticizes conservatives for having:  The job market is a
zero-sum game, and if we do not take steps to ensure that
minorities get THEIR fair share of the pie, then they will
not get any pie at all.

     Conservative welfare policy is also the target of a
great deal of criticism.  One of the most astounding
criticisms that Orfield and Askinaze make is that
conservatives made welfare "less desirable by cutting the
real level of benefits and imposing work and training
requirements" (pp. 206-207).  My question for them would be:
Shouldn't welfare be as undesirable as possible?  Certainly
those families and individuals going through tough times
should be helped, but that help should be accompanied with
some kind of program to help welfare recipients get by on
thier own, including work and training requirements.  In the
long run, such requirements for welfare may even lead to
positive results in other areas of black opportunity, such as
housing and education access.

     To their credit, Orfield and Ashkinaze, unlike Phillips,
do offer some possible solutions to the problem of growing
inequality, although they are typically what one would expect
them to be.  They include stricter federal enforcement of
civil rights laws, especially the Fair Housing Act, as well
as affirmative action and more federal financial aid for
college-bound high school students.  They also suggest
federally funded job training programs (I guess they just
don't want those people on welfare to take part in them),
with an emphasis on reasonable entry-level wages and
opportunity for advancement.

     What effect these recommendations might have on black
opportunity in the United States is open for debate, but
there are other questions that need to be considered.  If the
inner-city trends towards inequality are self-perpetuating,
as Orfield and Ashkinaze claim, "even if all discrimination
were eliminated" (p. 266), then we must weigh the costs of
such programs against their possible benefits.

Chet Lyle                    |"Bye-bye"
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