My own experience in public policy opened my eyes that socio-economic class, more so than simply race, is the determinative demographic factor for a persons life. Your socio-economic background effects all parts of your life from health to your education and what level of socio-economic status you can conceivably hope to rise to. It's not that race does not matter, it does, and I don't want to diminish how race affects outcomes. It's important though to look beyond the current conventional wisdom and frames to find real solutions to our challenges.
Along those lines I have seen some discussion recently about re-targeting our affirmative action policies and programs to better reflect this reality. That is programs would be targeted based on socio-economic class and not merely on race. Ezra Klein points us to this recent article from Richard D. Kahlenberg on social programs that take this new approach. It's an interesting read and one of the first lengthy pieces I've seen on the topic.
As an aside I've wondered why it is that we are seeing this new realization about class overriding even race in affecting outcomes. I don't have a good answer but I do wonder if it has something to do with the changing demographics of the country. We have seen a tremendous rise in immigration in the last few decades from Hispanic and Latin American countries at the same time we have seen a greatly deteriorating middle-class. Where African-Americans were once disproportionately represented in the working class we now are seeing a growing number of Latinos and whites which is fracturing the issue of poverty from race.
It's just a hypothesis and I could be completely wrong but it's something that has been kicking around inside my head.
UPDATE: A commenter at Ezra's site weighs in against the class > race argument