Race in America Minorities in America continue to be disproportionately affected by inequality— here’s a broad look at GAO’s work on this issue.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other Black men and women at the hands of the police have prompted demonstrations across the country and brought more attention to racial inequality. Since the 1970s, GAO has provided Congress with analysis of racial inequalities in several areas. This is a broad look at the challenges minorities continue to face in the nation.
You can also explore our past reports on racial inequality broken out by subject.
Jump to Subject Narrative:
After the passage of various civil rights laws in the 1960s, the nation began the process of desegregating its schools. We reported to Congress in 1973 that over 558 public schools in 3 years permanently closed for desegregation reasons. In 1991, we testified that continued efforts to desegregate public schools would make little progress if schools were allowed to illegally practice resegregation by placing minorities in lower-ability classes and special education programs.
As recently as 2016, we noted an increase in the number of poor students, mostly Black and Hispanic, in economically and racially concentrated schools. Such schools tend to have fewer resources and often don’t offer advanced math, science, and college preparatory courses. In 2018 we reported that Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools. And in 2019 we reported that Black boys and boys with disabilities were overrepresented in alternative schools—particularly schools with a discipline focus—compared to their enrollment in nonalternative schools.
View our past education reports.
We issued our first report on the Voting Rights Act in 1978. Although the law was instrumental in dramatically increasing Black voter registration, particularly in the southern United States, only 1% of all the nation’s elected officials were Black.
In 2014 we took a look at the impact of voter ID laws on turnout, including among Black voters. We reported that states that had introduced more stringent voter identification requirements had greater reductions in turnout between the 2008 and 2012 general elections than states that had not. Those reductions were even larger among Black voters.
View our past justice and law enforcement reports.
Mail-in Absentee Ballot
The federal government is the nation’s largest employer. In 1979, we found that exams administered by the Office of Personnel Management to screen applicants for federal employment disqualified Black job seekers at higher rates than White job seekers. This offered no real opportunity for Black job seekers to be fairly assessed for federal jobs.
Federal agencies must make full use of our nation’s talent by promoting workplaces that provide a fair and level playing field and the opportunity for employees to achieve their fullest potential. Over the years, we have reviewed agencies’ efforts to build a more diverse workforce and found that some federal agencies, such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, still struggle with equal opportunity in hiring and promoting minority staff members.
Unemployment rates tend to be higher for Black and Hispanic workers than for White workers, including during economic downturns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lower percentage of Black applicants than White applicants received unemployment benefits in some states we reviewed. In addition, a national survey found that between March and October 2020, a higher percentage of Black and Hispanic applicants were denied benefits compared to White applicants.
View our past equal employment reports.
We worked on racial profiling issues in the 1990s, finding that Black people:
- Were more likely to be stopped while driving
- Were more likely to be arrested
- On average, received harsher sentencing and/or faced bias in courts
- Were more likely to receive a capital murder charge or to be sentenced to death
As recently as 2017, we noted that these racial and ethnic biases in justice and policing continue to persist, disproportionately affecting Black and Hispanic people.
View our past justice and law enforcement reports.
Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Representation in the Census
Billons in federal funds are given to states each year based on census data. We’ve reported since the 1990s that Black and Indigenous people living on reservations are much more likely to be undercounted in the census, while White people are more likely to be overcounted. This affects how districts are drawn for local and federal elections as well as the amounts of federal funding available for programs like education, housing, and health care.
View our past census reports.
Access to Capital and Housing
For many Americans, starting a business is a common gateway to the American dream. We testified in 2008 that available studies indicate that Black-owned small businesses are denied loans more often or pay higher interest rates than White-owned businesses with similar risk characteristics. Since the 1990s, GAO has issued multiple reports on lending and federal program discrimination against Black and other minority farm-owners.
Similarly, minority people are denied home loans or may pay higher interest rates compared to White people. Tracking lending discrimination in housing had proved to be difficult because data collection was limited until 2018. Since then, tracking methods have improved. In our recent study of 9 U.S. cities, we found that White borrowers have continued to make up the majority of home loan originations.
We know that during the Great Recession, Black and Hispanic people were harder hit and more likely to default on subprime loans or less likely to have bought when home prices were still increasing. Today, Black and Hispanic households are more likely to be renters and experience rent burden compared to White households.
View our past economic and financial reports.
The federal government, through agencies and programs under the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Veterans Affairs, plays a major role in providing, monitoring, and financing health care for minorities. Available studies indicate a difference in health care outcomes and access between White and minority people, finding that:
- Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes
- There are lower survival rates among Black veterans with cancer and cardiovascular-related illnesses
- Indigenous veterans are more likely to lack health care and have a service-related disability
- Indian Health Service clinics don’t have enough doctors or nurses to provide quality and timely health care to Indigenous people
- Minorities receive lower-quality health care than White people, regardless of factors like income and insurance coverage
View our past health care reports.
Pregnancy-Related Deaths per 100,000 Live Births by Race, 2007-2016
The military, in many ways, is like a microcosm of the greater society. Many of the racial inequalities covered on this page are also problems in the military—but the solutions may be military-specific. We’ve looked at issues like disparities in military justice for servicemembers, finding among other things that Black and Hispanic servicemembers were more likely than White servicemembers to be tried in general and special court-martial proceedings. In addition, in the 1990s, we also found disparities in military employment and education. We have recommended that DOD improve its collection and assessment of data on disparities in a number of these areas.
View our past military reports.
GAO has also looked at inequalities that exist in government programs and environmental justice over the decades. You can explore our past reports on racial inequality broken out by subject.