The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Editorials

August 29, 2013

Editorial: 50 years later, economic inequality persists in U.S.

While the words of Martin Luther King Jr., spoken at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago, still ring from the annals of history, the words of others from the March on Washington speak as eloquently of the economic injustice suffered by African-Americans.

"Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them," labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, who first envisioned the March on Washington, told the crowd of 250,000 on the Mall.

And this was written by Bayard Rustin, an organizer of the 1963 march:

"The struggle began with the problem of buses and lunch counters and theaters — in a word, with the problem of dignity. But since the roots of discrimination are economic, and since, in the long run, the Negro, like everyone else, cannot achieve even dignity without a job — economic issues were bound to emerge, with far-reaching implications."

Even as our nation's first black president stood to address tens of thousands Wednesday on the 50-year anniversary of the march, by most measures, the economic gap between African Americans and whites remains at least as wide as it was 50 years ago:

— According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 27.4 percent of African Americans are poor, compared to 9.9 percent of their white brethren.

— In 2011, on average, blacks' income was 66 percent that of whites, up only incrementally from 55 percent in 1963.

— From 1963 through 2011, the black unemployment rate, on average, was 11.6 percent, twice that of white Americans.

Unequal access to buses and lunch counters and theaters that Rustin spoke of has been largely addressed. The greatest victory of Dr. King and his followers was the defeat of such overt social injustice.

But economic injustice persists. And it's more difficult to identify the causes and solutions. If Dr. King's battle against social wrongs was a traditional war that pitted forces of freedom against clearly defined Jim Crow laws, the battle for economic equality is guerrilla warfare, where the enemy and his tactics are much more elusive.

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