In the run-up to the election, we've mostly avoided talking about the Republican horse-race. But with Mitt Romney finally the clear front-runner, it's time to consider what a Romney presidency could mean for the programs so crucial to people of color. From criminal justice to unemployment to health care, the effects of a bad economy tend to disproportionately impact blacks and Latinos--often making regulation and government safety net programs the only things keeping the hardest hit afloat.
We'll break down some top issues affecting people of color and how Romney's policies could play out.
Immigration: Romney--like everyone else--believes the immigration system is "broken." The difference is how he plans to fix it. He's sticking with fairly standard GOP boilerplate: Border security which includes a "high tech fence" and more border patrol officers, support for employment verification program E-Verify, and "turning off" so-called "magnets" like in-state tuition for undocumented students and drivers' licenses. Romney also opposes amnesty laws. His end goal, he told a Florida audience, is to increase "self-deportation," a process of systematically denying immigrants access to services and income in order to get them to leave the country.
What it could mean: The problem with self-deportation is that figures show it doesn't work. One report from the Center for American Progress explains that it drives immigrants to more welcoming areas or underground. Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union noted that self-deportation means "refusing to rent to them [undocumented immigrants] or to provide access to heat and water." And as Julianne Hing has reported, Alabama's self-deportation law had the added effect of keeping children home from school.
Criminal Justice Reform: Reform of the justice system has slowly been making its way into the conservative mainstream. It's a bit of traditional conservatism come to light: Thanks to punitive policies, too many people are in jail, they're costing the state too much money, and they're dying there--often for minor, drug-related crimes. Last year, a conservative prison reform advocate told us that too many non-violent offenders are filling up jail cells. Even GOP candidate Newt Gingrich got in on the act, putting his name on an op-ed supporting reform.
What it could mean: Romney could join this bandwagon, but he hasn't shown any interest in talking about reform thus far. Doug Berman writes, "It may be not only naive but even foolish to expect Romney to pioneer change in this arena. After all, he has not yet shown much boldness in his campaign strategies so far, and I wonder if he has either the political courage or the personal convictions needed to reshape the GOP message on crime and punishment for the better." Considering how difficult it's been for President Obama to make any meaningful change on the prison reform front, it seems unlikely Romney would try to move the ball.
Unemployment: While the unemployment rate is creeping steadily downward from 2008 levels, it's still twice as high for blacks as it is for whites. Romney's plan for unemployment is, unsurprisingly, anti-government intervention. Cut taxes, "consolidate" job retraining programs, raise visa caps for highly skilled workers. He'd also support Right-To-Work laws, the policy that prevents unions from taking dues from workers who aren't members in order to improve the working conditions of all employees.
What it could mean: Unemployment is tricky. The Obama administration has maintained that the stimulus funds prevented the unemployment problem from getting as bad as it could have been, while conservatives point to the high levels as a sign that stimulus didn't work. On the other hand, there's no evidence that cutting taxes would do anything to increase the number of workers companies bring on. The success of Romney's policies would be, to an extent, up to the market (which he plans to deregulate).
Entitlements: Last week, Romney's campaign got its dander up over a slight from a Democratic strategist named Hilary Rosen, who complained that Romney's wife Ann had "never worked a day in her life." The campaign went on the attack, pointing out--correctly--that being a stay-at-home mother actually is a lot of work. Still, that didn't quite jibe with some messaging from Romney earlier this year, which MSNBC's Chris Hayes picked up: "I wanted to increase the work requirement. I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, 'Well that's heartless,' and I said 'No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.'" By Romney's lights, stay-at-home parenting is only work if the parent is middle class, it seems.
What it could mean: Welfare reform has actually increased the number of families in poverty. While it means the government is spending less--and that work has become more attainable for some--it doesn't mean that the neediest recipients are being catapulted into the middle class. Ezra Klein writes: "As our workfare system has grown more robust, the traditional welfare system for those who can't find or keep work has eroded."
Health Care: Romney is unequivocally opposed to the Affordable Care Act. He vows to repeal it (if the Supreme Court doesn't get there first). Instead, he wants to turn health care over to the states, letting them figure out how to insure their residents.
What it could mean: In 2000, 57.5 percent of black Americans had employer-sponsored health insurance. By 2010, that number fell below 50 percent, to 45.3. For black children, the drop was even steeper: employer sponsored health insurance fell 14.1 percentage points.
"Racial and ethnic disparities in coverage persisted over time, with non-Hispanic whites in 2010 experiencing rates of ESI coverage 71 percent higher than those of Hispanics and 48 percent higher than those of blacks," the Economic Policy Institute's Elise Gould wrote in a recent report. Health care reform has filled in the gap for people who lost their employment and their health insurance. Moreover, it's worth noting that even if the same number of jobs lost over the last five years comes back, they're not the same quality jobs that existed before. Romney's plan to deregulate health care could lead to more gaps in coverage.