King's dream: Is it reality today? Look at these gaps
Dr. Wayne Baker returns today:
Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Other notables gave speeches that day, but King’s became famous here and around the world.
Some say King’s dream words are inscribed on the hearts of Americans. It is true that “I Have a Dream” is inscribed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the very spot where he spoke — but how much of King’s dream is reality today?
There are many answers to that question. We’ll consider several this week, so please check back Monday through Friday.
Where do we stand financially?
Today, we look at the issue of economic freedom—a major theme in King’s speech. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington, as it is typically called now. Its official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, highlighting the twin themes of economic freedom and civil rights. The economic gulf between whites and blacks was wide 50 years ago.
QUESTION: How much do you think the financial gap has closed? A little? A lot?
ANSWER: Not at all, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The median household income for blacks is $39,760, according to the latest U.S. Census data, while the figure for whites is $67,175. Put differently, the median household income of blacks today is 59 percent of the median household income for whites. In 1967, it was 55 percent of white household income. Since 1967, the black incomes have fluctuated between 54 percent to 65 percent of white incomes.
QUESTION: How about wealth?
ANSWER: Same story. The average net worth of a white household today is $91,405, while the wealth figure for black households is $6,446. Over time, the gap between white and black wealth has increased, says Pew.
QUESTION: How about home ownership?
ANSWER: This is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream. About three of four white households (73 percent) own their own homes. Among black households, the figure is 44 percent. The gap in home ownership has fluctuated over the years, but the rate of black home ownership is the same today as it was in 1976.
Of course, there have been some improvements, as we’ll consider this week. Today, however, the economic indicators tell a grim story — at least by these measures, King’s Dream is as far from reality today as it was 50 years ago.
Are you surprised by these comparisons?
How do you interpret them?
PLEASE NOTE: As the creator and main Our Values columnist through the years, I want to express my thanks to our guest authors this summer! I appreciate their contributions: Dmitri Barvinok, David Crumm, Rodney Curtis, Terry Gallagher, and Joe Grimm!
Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook.