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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs