Who Pays for Reparations? The Immigration Challenge in the Reparations Debate

Since the 2020 “racial reckoning,” there has been increased political momentum behind reparations for slavery. Debates about reparations have moved from the halls of academia to legislatures in California and a number of cities. Americans and their leaders are increasingly asking: Are reparations justified at all? And, if so, who should get how much?

This report concerns itself with a different question: Who pays for reparations? Reparations are a form of compensation for historical injustice. But many Americans did not have any ancestors present in the country at the time that injustice was committed. It is hard to argue that Americans whose ancestors arrived after 1860 should be on the hook for the costs of reparations.

What fraction of nonblack Americans have ancestors who arrived after the end of the Civil War? Using demographic modeling techniques, this report pegs the figure as high as 70%, including more than half the non-Hispanic white population. These Americans are the descendants of immigrants who came to the U.S. either in the first great wave of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or in the second great wave, begun in 1965 and still ongoing today.

Many of these more recent […]

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Michelle Rojas-Soto is Social Justice Director at the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and Managing Director at Encompass, a racial equity nonprofit. Her children attend LAUSD and Glendale USD schools.

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