The G.I Bill & The Creation of The Racial Wealth Gap in America | History Matters

In 1944, to create resources for World War II veterans after they fought for this country, then-president Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Serviceman Readjustment Act of 1944 better known as the G.I Bill. The law was designed to provide benefits for veterans that included: college tuition, low-cost home loans & unemployment insurance.

The bill was supposed to benefit all veterans, but it quickly became obvious that the bill was structured in a way to systematically shut out the more than 2 million black veterans that willing or unwilling participated in the war. When lawmakers drafted the bill, they feared the black veterans would use public sympathy to get other white veterans to advocate against the Jim Crow laws. So, to combat that the chair of the house committee, Mississippi Congressman John Rankin insisted that the program be administered by individual states instead of the federal government so they could use the new law at their discretion.

Once the bill started, black veterans had trouble accessing the benefits because of the systematic racism written into the bill and the unsettling atmosphere Jim Crow Laws created. Whether it was home loans or education, black veterans were shut out of these programs. In 1947, only 2 of the more than 3,200 VA-guaranteed loans in 13 Mississippi cities went to black veterans. Many felt that this level of discrimination was reserved for the south, but it took place in the north too. In New York and New Jersey, fewer than 100 of the 67,00 mortgages insured by the G.I bill went to non-white veterans. Attempting to take advantage of the educational benefits proved to be just as difficult.

Dealing with an already underfunded and systemically racist public-school system some black veterans thought they were better fit to just come home and work opposed to attending college. Jim crow laws were still prevalent in the southern states while Northern colleges did not allow many black either, thus eliminating most of their options for higher learning. 95% of black veterans were directed towards black colleges that were underfunded and already dealing with an influx of new applicants because of the war. The V.A encouraged black veterans to attend vocational training instead of attending Universities, but the vocational schools lacked the proper equipment for black students while their white counterparts rarely had that problem.

This created limitations on the type of work they could obtain. 86% of the skilled jobs went to white veterans while 92% of the unskilled positions and service positions went to the black veterans. By the time the G.I bill ended in 1956, nearly 8 million World War II veterans had received education or some form of training, and 4.3 million home loans were given out worth 33 billion with black veterans getting little to none of those resources. According to the 2017 census, the median income for white families was $68,145 a year while black families made $40,258. So, when we look at the racial wealth gap that permeates this country, the G.I Bill had a lot to do with widening that gap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.history.com/news/gi-bill-black-wwii-veterans-benefits

https://progressive.org/dispatches/how-african-american-wwii-veterans-were-scorned-by-the-g-i-b/

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