News / USA

Obama: 50 Years After King Speech, Discrimination Feeds Economic Gap

President Barack Obama speaks about affordable college education during a town hall meeting at Binghamton University in Vestal, New York, Aug. 23, 2013.
President Barack Obama speaks about affordable college education during a town hall meeting at Binghamton University in Vestal, New York, Aug. 23, 2013.
Reuters
President Barack Obama said on Friday that America's history of racial discrimination had contributed to a persistent economic gap between blacks and whites in the 50 years since Martin Luther King's landmark “I Have a Dream” speech.
 
Obama said his own story showed the “enormous strides” the United States had made since King's speech, but as Washington commemorates the anniversary of King's address, the disparity between black and white income remained.
 
“What we've also seen is that the legacy of discrimination, slavery, Jim Crow, has meant that some of the institutional barriers for success for a lot of groups still exist,” Obama, the first black U.S. president, said in answering a question at a town hall meeting at Binghamton University in New York state.
 
“You know, African-American poverty in this country is still significantly higher than other groups. Same is true for Latinos. Same is true for Native Americans,” he said.
 
Divisive U.S. politics is a factor in the growing gap between rich and poor in America, Obama said.
 
“The tendency to suggest somehow that government is taking something from you and giving it to somebody else and your problems will be solved if we just ignore them or don't help them ... is something that we have to constantly struggle against, whether we're black or white or whatever color we are,” he said.
 
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured,1963. Photo: Creative CommonsMarch on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured,1963. Photo: Creative Commons
x
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured,1963. Photo: Creative Commons
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured,1963. Photo: Creative Commons
Data shows that five decades after King's speech during the  “March for Jobs and Freedom” in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963,  the black-white economic gap has persisted despite huge gains in education and political clout by blacks.
 
Black unemployment is about twice that for whites, the same as in 1963. Blacks also have been disproportionately hammered by the deep 2007-2009 recession and credit crunch.
 
Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, said blacks lagged whites for a number of reasons. They include slightly lower levels of education, weaker business networking and the U.S. failure to create good-paying jobs since the 1970s.
 
But discrimination also plays a role, she said. Studies have shown, for example, that on identical job applications those with white-sounding names are more likely to get callbacks than those with black-sounding names.
 
Such studies “show that discrimination is still alive and well,” she said.
 
In 1963, the jobless rate among blacks was 10.9 percent, more than twice that for whites, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
 
Last month, black unemployment was 12.6 percent, compared with 6.6 percent for whites, the Labor Department said.
 
The income gap between black and white families has narrowed somewhat in the last half century.
 
Black families on average had incomes in 2011 that were two-thirds that of whites, up from 57 percent in 1963, Census Bureau data shows. The poverty rate for blacks has dropped, to 28 percent in 2011 from 42 percent in 1966.
 
Household Income
 
Census Bureau numbers show that since the recession started in 2007, average black household income has fallen 12.4 percent, compared with a 7 percent drop for whites.
 
Stuart Butler, director of the Center for Policy Innovation at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said black economic achievement was hampered by such factors as a high rate of out-of-wedlock births, low savings rates, poor schools and a high rate of incarceration for black men.
 
With all of those in place, “it's just devastating for economic improvement,” he said.
 
The economic gap between the races has remained nearly unchanged even as blacks have made big gains in education and political representation.
 
The percentage of blacks who graduate from high school has risen more than threefold, to 85 percent last year. There are more than 10 times as many black college students now than there were 50 years ago, according to the Census Bureau.
 
Political gains are just as marked. There were 10,500 black elected officials in 2011, a 10-fold increase from 1970, the first year the number was compiled, Census data showed.
 
The current Congress has 45 black representatives, up from five in 1963, according to the House historian's website. There is one black U.S. senator, Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, and there were none in 1963.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid