Watch the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech LIVE Wednesday 11:30 a.m. ET
When President Obama takes the stage at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington, he will symbolize a big part of the complicated story of the nation’s racial progress in the half-century since the historic demonstration.
Can there be more convincing testimony to the breathtaking advancement of African Americans than a black president?
Yet there is also this: Even as racial barriers have been toppled and the nation has grown wealthier and better educated, the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.
Between 1959 and 1972, the black poverty rated dropped from 55.1 percent to 32.2 percent. But since then, progress has been slow. In 2011, 27.6 percent of black households were in poverty — nearly triple the white rate, according to the Census Bureau.
“The relative position of blacks has not changed economically since the march,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, economics and African American studies at Duke University. “Certainly, poverty has declined for everybody, but it has declined in a way that the proportion of blacks to whites who are poor is about the same as it was 50 years ago.”
That is hardly what famed labor leader A. Philip Randolph, the driving force behind the event, had in mind when he called for a mass march for “jobs and freedom.” For decades, Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union, had pushed for economic equality for black Americans.
[R]acial economic disparities are mostly unchanged and in some cases are growing. In 1963, blacks families earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by whites. In 2011, blacks earned 66 cents for every dollar earned by whites. The black unemployment rate averaged 11.6 percent between 1963 and 2012, more than double the white jobless rate over that time.
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The Economic Immobility and Financial Insecurity of POC
According to a Pew Research Center study released [in 2011], the median wealth (assets minus debt) for white households is a little over $113,000, whereas the median wealth for black households is little more than $5600. According to a study released last year by Insight, Center for Community Economic Development, the median wealth for single black women is $100. Twenty-five percent of women of color have student debt, and nearly 50 percent of women of color have credit card debt in order to pay for basic necessities, thereby endangering financial security and economic mobility. According to Insight “[s]ingle black and hispanic women have one penny of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts and a fraction of a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by single white women.”
- Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively; the median for single white women is $41,500.
- While white women in the prime working years of ages 36-49 have a median wealth of $42,600, the median wealth for women of color is only $5.
- Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, the latter of which occurs when debts exceed assets.
- While 57 percent of single white women own homes, only 33 percent of single black women and 28 percent of single Hispanic women are homeowners.
- Only 1 percent of single Hispanic women and 4 percent of single black women own business assets compared to 8 percent of single white women.
- Social Security is the only source of retirement income for more than 25 percent of black women.
- Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.
[Source: Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America's Future]
Primary Resources: I Have a Dream, 1963
This is an audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the “I Have a Dream” speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. The speech is regarded as one of the greatest American speeches ever made.