The Justice Gap, the Economic Downturn and its Effects on Children and Racial Inequality
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With the downturn in the economy, more people are slipping into poverty and are in need of assistance to resolve disputes regarding housing, public benefits, credit and family law issues. Despite a vigorous group of legal services organizations and a very generous pro bono bar, the Access to Justice Commission found that only one-in-ten low-income persons who needed a lawyer received help. This report was issued before the economy began to fail.

Women, children, persons of color and immigrants are more deeply affected by the justice gap because they are much more likely to be poor. According to the United States Census Bureau, 40% of African American female headed households live in poverty and an African American child is three times more likely to be poor than a child who is white.

Recent studies have found that the recession is exacerbating inequality. Last month, the children’s advocacy organization, First Focus, issued the results of a 30 year study. They concluded that children who fall into poverty during a recession experience lasting effects well into adulthood. Recession related poverty affects unemployment, wealth and health decades later.

Not all children are at equal risk during a recession. Income disparities based on race are exacerbated and minorities are much more likely to lose income or be the victims of predatory consumer practices. The Applied Research Center looked closely at the causes of income and wealth disparities and concluded that persons of color are more severely affected by the recession because of structural and historic inequality. Before the recession, white unemployment was around 4% and African American unemployment closer to 9%. In March of 2009, white unemployment rose to 7.9% and African American unemployment was 13.3%.

These results have significant implications for the District and its judicial system. Poverty related legal issues already dominate the Superior Court and administrative tribunals. As the demand for help rises, resources for legal help remain flat or are shrinking.

From time-to-time this blog will discuss the challenges and the efforts to meet them. I hope you will continue to join us in the discussion.

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