01/21/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream Of Economic Equality Still Not A Reality

Today we remember the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: the man who laid out his dream for a more equal America nearly 50 years ago. Unfortunately, we haven't made as much progress as King probably would have hoped. Though relevant government statistics are limited and do not go back to the 1960s, available data suggests that our country still has a long way to go before attaining true equality of opportunity for black and white Americans.

1. Black unemployment has gotten worse.

A larger share of blacks are jobless now than 40 years ago. The black unemployment rate in December of 2012 was 14 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 9.4 percent in December of 1972. In contrast, the white unemployment rate is 6.9 percent. The percentage of blacks with a job, at 52.6 percent, is lower than it was 40 years ago and far lower than the percentage of whites with a job (59.5 percent).

2. Fewer black men are in the labor force.

A smaller share of black men are in the labor force -- that is, working or looking for a job -- than 40 years ago. Slightly more than two-thirds of black men were in the labor force in December of 2012, down from 78 percent 40 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, 73.3 percent of white men are in the labor force.

3. We haven't closed the wealth gap between black and white Americans.

Blacks are staggeringly worse off than whites when it comes to wealth. The median black household had a net worth of $5,217 (in 2012 dollars) in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. In contrast, the median white household had a net worth of $116,588. The median white household is 39 percent wealthier than in 1988, while the median black household has become 36 percent poorer, according to Census Bureau data.

4. Black Americans have a higher incarceration rate than white Americans.

Blacks Americans were imprisoned at a higher rate than whites in 1970 and 1972, according to government statistics. That has not changed. Black males' incarceration rate was six times higher than white males' incarceration rate in 2011, according to government data. Roughly 7 percent of all black males between the age of 25 and 39 were in jail in 2011. Since employment statistics don't include people behind bars, blacks' high incarceration rate makes their employment situation look better than it is.

The bottom line: Martin Luther King's dream has not fully become reality.



Main Streets Around The U.S. From The 1940s