50 Years After ‘I Have a Dream,’ Americans Say There’s Still a Long Way to Go to Racial Equality

The march on Washington, D.C. at the mall on August 28, 1963. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Aug. 22, 2013, 8 a.m.

A new study look­ing at race in Amer­ica 50 years after Mar­tin Luth­er King’s speech at the March on Wash­ing­ton shows that nearly half of all Amer­ic­ans think there’s a lot of work left to be done to achieve ra­cial equal­ity. And some ra­cial gaps in the United States are still stark.

The sur­vey, from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, shows that al­most half of Amer­ic­ans think that real ra­cial pro­gress has been made in the past five dec­ades. But the ra­cial break­down shows a big con­trast:

Sig­ni­fic­antly few­er black Amer­ic­ans think “a lot” of pro­gress has been made, com­pared with white and His­pan­ic re­spond­ents. And, by a large mar­gin, more black re­spond­ents be­lieve there’s a lot left to ac­com­plish.

The sur­vey found that in the five years since Barack Obama was in­aug­ur­ated, the per­cent­age of Amer­ic­ans who say the “situ­ation of black people is bet­ter today, com­pared with five years ago” has sig­ni­fic­antly dropped. For white re­spond­ents, the num­ber went from 49 per­cent in 2009 to 35 per­cent in the new sur­vey. For black re­spond­ents, it dropped from 39 per­cent to 26 per­cent. In both in­stances, the new num­bers more closely re­semble the 2007 re­sponses, just be­fore the re­ces­sion struck.

When you look at some of the ma­jor ra­cial dis­par­it­ies in the U.S. eco­nomy, there is some ob­vi­ous reas­on for the re­newed pess­im­ism.

In the past 40 years, some gaps in equal­ity have sig­ni­fic­antly widened, ac­cord­ing to Pew’s ana­lys­is:

In ad­di­tion, the black poverty rate is nearly double the white poverty rate. And the un­em­ploy­ment rate for Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans has been con­sist­ently high­er than that for white Amer­ic­ans. In Ju­ly, the black un­em­ploy­ment rate was 12.6 per­cent. The white un­em­ploy­ment rate was 6.6 per­cent.

There are also areas where the gaps have barely budged — and that’s not a good thing for equal­ity:

But it’s not all bad news. Some real pro­gress has been made in clos­ing ra­cial gaps in the last sev­er­al dec­ades:

In the polit­ic­al realm, some pro­gress is ob­vi­ous. In ad­di­tion to the first black pres­id­ent, there are more black mem­bers of Con­gress today than in 1963. In 1963, dur­ing the 88th Con­gress, there were five black mem­bers in the House. At the start of the cur­rent 113th Con­gress, there were 42. In 1963, there were no black sen­at­ors. Today, there are — well, there is just one, al­though the Sen­ate briefly had two Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans. As many Amer­ic­ans already know, there are some areas where there’s still plenty of pro­gress left to be made.

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