As pointed out in a recent Washington Post article, there has been significant progress 50 years after the March on Washington. In her article, Juliet Eilperin notes that:
In 1964 the portion of all Americans 18 or older who voted was 69.3 percent; this has dropped to 56.5 percent last year. By contrast, the rate of African Americans voting in presidential elections has risen from 58.5 percent to 62 percent during that same period. The 2012 election marked the first time African Americans voted at a higher rate than whites, according to Census data.
The number of African-American elected officials has also risen dramatically since researchers started tracking it in 1970. Forty-three years ago there were 1,469 black elected officials nationwide, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; in 2011 there were roughly 10,500 such officials.
In education, blacks have also made tremendous strides. In 1964, 25.7 percent of blacks age 25 and over had completed at least four years of high school; that percentage stood at 85 percent last year. During that same period the number of blacks with a high school diploma rose from 2.4 million to 20.3 million. Between 1964 and 2012 the percentage of blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of college increased from 3.9 percent to 21.2 percent, with the number of blacks boasting at least a bachelor’s degree rising from 365,000 to 5.1 million.
And the poverty rate among African Americans has also dropped dramatically over the past five decades. Back in 1966 the poverty rate for all races in the United States was 14.7 percent, but it was 41.8 percent for African Americans. Two years ago the poverty rate for African Americans was 27.6 percent, according to the Census, but that was still nearly double the national poverty rate of 15 percent.
That last statistic is a reminder that this country still has a long way to go in order to realize King's dream. The following statistics illustrate the continuing problems that African Americans face. Although the stats focus on Chicago, other black urban communities have similar problems. As noted in the Chicago Reader, here are the numbers:
The unemployment rate in Chicago was 7.6 percent for blacks and 2.3 percent for whites in 1968 (the first year for which I could find unemployment data here by race). The black-white employment gap is nothing new, and it's not just a Chicago problem: nationally, the black rate has been nearly double and occasionally two and a half times the white rate since the 1960s. In 1963, the black unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, the white rate 5 percent; and most recently, in July, the national rates were 12.6 percent for blacks and 6.6 percent for whites.
Unemployment today is especially high for blacks in big cities, and that's certainly true in Chicago. Last year, the rate for blacks here was 19.5 percent, the rate for whites 8.1 percent.
As bad as that current 19.5 percent unemployment rate is for Chicago blacks, it understates their plight. It counts only those in the labor force, excluding the imprisoned. It also excludes "discouraged" workers—those who've given up looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.
And today in Chicago, 30 years after the Urban League exhorted the city to reduce the socioeconomic disparities between black and white residents, 34.1 percent of black Chicagoans are living in poverty, and 10.9 percent of whites. In 2010, median income of white households was twice that of black households ($58,752 versus $29,371). The seven poorest community areas today are all overwhelmingly African-American. Twenty percent of their residents are living in extreme poverty—their incomes are less than half of the poverty line.
And African-Americans in Chicago haven’t been gaining ground economically of late. Their poverty rate climbed from 29.4 percent in 2000, to 31.5 percent in 2007, to the current 34.1 percent.
In the mid-1960s, Chicago's public school enrollment was nearly half white and half black—but the white students went to schools that were nearly all white, and the black students went to schools that were nearly all black.
With that composition, it's not surprising that the vast majority of African-American children in Chicago's public schools are still hypersegregated. In 2013, 86 percent of African-American students attended schools that were at least 90 percent black and Hispanic. More than two-thirds of African-American students—68 percent—were in schools that were at least 90 percent African-American.
Reading scores in the black schools of the 1960s were far below scores in the white schools—and African-American students are still way behind. The Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago reported in 2011 that graduation rates for CPS students rose from 48 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2010. But they were the lowest and grew the least for African-Americans. The Consortium also found that between 1990 and 2009, racial gaps in achievement grew, with white, Asian, and Hispanic students making modest gains in reading while black students showed "virtually no improvements."
Those statistics do not include other problems plaguing our communities such as mass incarceration, inner city violence, racial profiling and police brutality. In addition, the Trayvon Martin case is another reminder that black life still has no value in America. He is our generation's Emmett Till. We still have a long way to go to reach the Promised Land that King preached about.