Having spent much of my life immersed in it, I am well-acquainted with the work of advocacy for the disenfranchised.
Too often, however, those who take up that mantle assume a paternalistic posture toward those classified as “low-income,” which in this state is commonly read and sold as African Americans and Latinos.
During the political season, these forces, typically from outside the community, use the struggles of that demographic to sell positions that actually run counter to their interests.
As Election Day draws closer, that is how I have come to view the opposition to Proposition 33, a statewide ballot initiative that would restore fundamental fairness to California’s often confusing and one-sided insurance laws.
The logic behind the initiative is simple, and resonates with anyone who has ever purchased auto insurance: Under the proposal that voters will decide upon Nov. 6, consumers would be able keep the “continuous coverage” discounts they earn by staying insured for a number of years, even if they decide to change insurance companies. Incredibly, as the law stands today, motorists only qualify for those discounts if they remain with a single insurer; should they decide to seek coverage elsewhere, they are forced to relinquish those cost savings–no matter how long they took to establish.
The opposition is led mostly by a single individual, who is bent on blocking even the most common-sense updates to insurance reforms that he championed more than 20 years ago. Predictably, the initiative’s supposed ill effects on low-income consumers is often cited, but a closer analysis reveals how the initiative’s passage holds the potential to free African Americans and others from discriminatory practices that drive up their insurance rates.
In 2006, researchers at UCLA found that another enduring practice of the auto insurance industry–using ZIP codes as a factor when calculating rates–takes a disproportionately adverse effect on African Americans in Los Angeles.
Through Prop. 33, African American and other motorists living in neighborhoods deemed higher-risk, but–through a combination of responsible driving, adherence to insurance laws and loyalty to a single insurer–have still managed to establish affordable insurance payments, can exercise a fundamental right as consumers to explore new options without the risk of paying higher premiums as the cost of finding a better deal. If motorists could take an existing continuous coverage discount to new insurers motivated to compete for their business, it makes sense that drivers statewide would stand a much better chance of securing more favorable rates.
But it could go even further than basic pocketbook issues: What if, for instance, African American drivers want the opportunity to do business with insurers that do not hike rates in their ZIP codes? Or ones that, at the very least, impose lighter penalties on drivers from their communities? Why should they be forever bound to companies that have no incentive to give them an even better deal, or end practices that take a financial toll on their communities?
Indeed, for African Americans, Prop. 33 holds the potential to further empower us to take control of our own economic destiny. By voting yes at the polls on Nov. 6, we can take a firm stance against an unjust law that drains wealth from our communities, and leaves us with far fewer choices in the marketplace.
Celes King IV is the vice chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality California, CORE. CORE was instrumental in renaming Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Los Angeles, and is the principal sponsor of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.
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