It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the Pew Research Center recently polled and analyzed Americans to see if we have made progress on achieving the “dream” half a century later.
The New York Times examined the Pew survey, and noted that less than 1 in 3 black Americans and less than half of white Americans say that the U.S. has made “a lot” of progress towards achieving racial equality. And while one can see and experience how far we’ve come as a country in regards to race relations, the numbers still tell a troubling tale about equity in our nation. For example, both blacks and whites generally agree that the two races get along well, but roughly 7 in 10 blacks and more than 1 in 4 whites believe that blacks are not treated equitably by the criminal justice system. The majority of blacks also feel that they are treated less fairly than whites in the workplace and in public schools. Similarly, 1 in 3 blacks, 1 in 5 Hispanic Americans, and 1 in 10 whites said they were treated unfairly within the last year because of perceptions of their race.
According to the Pew study, gaps in life expectancy and high school graduation rates have all been eradicated, but inequalities in poverty and home ownership rates have remained relatively static. Compared with 50 years ago, the disparity between blacks and whites has actually increased in the areas of household income and wealth, marriage, and incarceration rates. For example, the average three-member black household earns approximately 59 percent of what a similar white household makes today. This is an increase from 55 percent in 1967, but the income gap in dollars has actually widened to $27,000 from $19,000. The gap has also widened between Hispanics and whites as well.
Unsurprisingly, the median net worth of white households is 14 times that of black households, and blacks are nearly three times as likely to be living below the federal poverty level. The disparity in homeownership rates is the widest it has been in 40 years. Even further, the gap in college completion rates rose to 13 percentage points from 6. The black college completion rate, as a percentage of the white rate, has improved twenty points to 62 percent. The Hispanic rate remains steady at 42 percent. In 1960, black men were five times as likely to be in a local, state, or federal prison. Today, that number has actually increased to six times as likely. In addition, Hispanic men are three times as likely to be incarcerated as white men.
Understandably, 80 percent of all Americans say that at least some more needs to be done, and it will be interesting to see how and what changes are actually made over the next 50 years. When they are actually made should begin today. As Dr. King said in his classic speech, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” If anything is to be learned from Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, it is that we all have the ability to impact society, affect change, and fulfill dreams.
By Being Latino Contributor, Marcos Hand