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August 28, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Fifty years later, the march remains unfinished
The seminal event that took place 50 years ago was officially called The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The progress since then is undeniable: No more “colored-only” facilities, no more de jure segregation of Jim Crow. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, with essential Republican support — although that is now being eroded. We are far from Dr. King’s dream but we are a different country and, in matters of racial equality, a better one. The “jobs” part of the march is a different matter. The marchers advocated “jobs for all,” in addition to decent housing, good and integrated education and a minimum wage that would be $13 in today’s dollars.
In July, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 13.4 percent vs. 6.8 percent for whites. That’s July 2013. For Hispanics, it was 9.5 percent. For African-Americans age 16 to 19, it was a staggering 41.6 percent compared with 20.3 percent for whites. Ground has been lost since 2000, when the black unemployment rate had fallen to 7.6 percent from 13 percent in 1993. According to the Census Bureau, median income for black males was $23,584 in 2011; for black females it was $19.561. Both were down substantially from 2002. For whites, the numbers were $35,344 for men and $21,379 for women (also losing ground).
None of this is to miss the rise of a black middle class in a de jure integrated society and laws can’t, and shouldn’t, guarantee equality of outcome. But the reality is that African-Americans have been worse hit by the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. They are much less likely to enjoy intergenerational wealth (events such as the Tulsa riot of 1921, where whites destroyed the prosperous black business district helped ensure that). Blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites and about 840,000 black men are in prison. From a purely economic perspective, it is a tremendous waste of human capital and drain on the taxpayers. In the housing boom, predatory lenders steered blacks into mortgages that would detonate. Most critically, poverty remains highly concentrated and schools segregated, with blacks more likely to receive an inferior education. Is this “racism”? Sure, part of it is blacks being caught up in the downdraft affecting most Americans, and having less capital — and social capital — to cushion the fall. But it’s hard to witness the intense, personalized hatred from some quarters for President Obama and believe we’re in a post-racial society.
So the half-century commemoration of the march is a fine thing, a teachable moment. But one key lesson is that much work remains to be done. As King repeatedly argued, the entire nation is held back by discrimination and lack of opportunity.
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