The argument over affirmative action has often been cast simplistically as an issue of self-help versus special preferences. Now a new report by the Population Reference Bureau calls into question the very terms of the traditional debate. Its new study, "African Americans in the 1990s," documents a growing gap between affluent blacks and those left behind. Since the late 1960s, the study found, there has been a nearly four-fold increase in the former; yet 30 percent of blacks remain mired in poverty.
These are among America's most disadvantaged citizens, trapped in deteriorating inner cities where they are subject to the myriad scourges of crime, underfunded schools, dysfunctional families and poor health. Yet the paradox is that affirmative action, meant to level the playing field, in practice often has the least impact on those most burdened by discrimination -- because those at the bottom are simply so ill-prepared to take advantage of any opportunities affirmative action might present.