Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MLK Jr. Knew There Is No Real Freedom (or Justice) Without Jobs

That's MLK Jr. front and center - and a plurality of the marchers are carrying signs about jobs,
not about voting / segregation in schools / etc.

This blog thinks a lot about economics, especially the plight of the poor. In that vein, I think it's useful to remind ourselves, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this week, that the official name of the 1963 March was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom":

I think it is often (perhaps intentionally) forgotten that the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized by a bunch of socialists who were looking to radically reshape not only America's political structure, but also it's economic one.

While it's certainly appropriate to celebrate the success of the March in achieving its immediate political goals of federal civil rights and voting rights legislation (although those achievements are now under attack by the Republican Party and Supreme Court today), we should not forget that many of the economic goals of the March remain painfully unfulfilled. As today's WaPo notes:

Even as racial barriers have tumbled and the nation has grown wealthier and better educated, the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.
When it comes to household income and wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened. On other measures, the gaps are roughly the same as they were four decades ago. The poverty rate for blacks, for instance, continues to be about three times that of whites.

“The relative position of blacks has not changed economically since the march,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, economics and African American studies at Duke University. “Certainly, poverty has declined for everybody, but it has declined in a way that the proportion of blacks to whites who are poor is about the same as it was 50 years ago.”
Much of this lack of progress came about because of the way that the US economy broke in the 1970s - while increasing national wealth was widely shared among all classes until the mid-1970's, from the mid-1970s onwards, most of the increase in national wealth went to the richest (almost exclusively white) Americans, even though all Americans were working more productively and producing more wealth.

This disparity has hit the poorest Americans (who are disproportionately black and Latino) the hardest - today, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 12.6 percent, double the white unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

So, yes, as a country, we have made a lot of progress in the last 50 years - but much of MLK Jr.'s dream remains unfulfilled. Although the soaring rhetoric of many of today's speeches serves to lift one's spirits, I wonder how much effect the 50th anniversary of the March will have on the USA. Unfortunately, I'd guess not much, since one of America's two major political parties seems to have dedicated itself to the cause of denying MLK Jr.'s dream, and to even rolling back the parts of the dream that the USA has been able to fulfill.

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