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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora