Repercussions of F.D.R.’s G.I. Bill

Last week in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about how the G.I. Bill after World War II helped build a strong economy including a healthy middle class.  However, what President Obama failed to mention was the disparate effect the G.I. Bill had on White veterans compared to veterans of color.  The G.I. Bill essentially built a healthy middle class for White families but limited access to benefits that would have facilitated the rise of communities of color into that same middle class – a disparate effect that has not been corrected through subsequent policy decisions.

The G.I. Bill was open to all veterans, but its implementation proved to be discriminatory.  Congress had agreed that G.I. Bill supports – which included job training, college tuition, and home loans – could be administered locally.  Local implementers maintained the racially discriminatory actions that characterized local public and private sector behaviors prior to the war.  These included admissions policies that made it difficult for people of color to access higher education as well as rampant redlining practices by mortgage lenders.  Since discriminatory policies within housing and higher education were not addressed in the G.I. bill, many veterans of color were unable to access these benefits.  Thus, while the White middle class flourished after World War II, middle class communities of color failed to keep pace and the U.S. continues to see the repercussions today.

So what are those current repercussions?  The G.I. Bill has led to disparities in homeownership, community resources, education, health and wealth passing through subsequent generations.  We cannot deny the residential segregation that plagues the country, particularly in Michigan – home to one of the most racially segregated regions in the nation.  And while residential segregation may partially be a result of choice for some communities such as immigrant communities (as in, families of the same racial/ethnic background seek to live with others who share their culture, language and customs), the G.I. Bill clearly played a critical role in limiting the economic and residential mobility of veterans of color.  By providing resources for new home construction only, it served to help create suburbs while ensuring no investment or wealth accumulation in existing urban housing.

This type of segregation has allowed policymakers to target communities for investments and disinvestments in ways that layer disadvantage upon disadvantage, whether intentionally or not.  Today in Michigan, we see communities of color that have limited access to high quality early childhood education programs, top performing schools, well-resourced health care facilities, adequately paying jobs, and safe neighborhood spaces.  Michigan’s legislators need to better understand the long-term effect that their decisions make on communities, families and children of color and how strategic investments can help reduce racial disparities while continued disinvestment will further widen the race equity gap.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s equity work.

-Mina Hong