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50 Years After March on Washington Many Americans Are Still Falling Behind: Urban League President

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When Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington 50 years ago, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was about twice that of whites—10% vs. 5%—and 74% of African-American children attended segregated schools. Those ratios haven’t changed much since then, but there has been progress.

The number of black families earning at least $100,000 annually and the number of blacks with college degrees have each grown fivefold, and the poverty rate, though near double that of white Americans, has declined from over 40% to under 30%.

But the wealth gap between black and white Americans is growing. White families have six times the wealth of black and Hispanic families, even though the income gap is only twice as large, according to the Urban League.

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Its president, Marc Morial, tells The Daily Ticker: “We’ve had a widening of the economic gap between the wealthiest American and everyone else, and that’s even more severe when we look at people of color.”

One big reason for the growing gap: the lower rate of home ownership for African Americans—about 28% lower, according to a recent Brandeis study. The homeownership rate for blacks is now 43%, little changed from the 41.6% that prevailed in in 1970, when those numbers were first collected. And when the housing bubble burst in the mid to late 2000s, it reduced black families' median wealth by 53%.

“The recession depressed home ownership [for all] and even more among African-Americans and Latinos,” says Morial. Between 2000 and 2011, the black median household income fell from 64% to 58%, making it even harder to buy a home.

The official title of the march on the national mall 50 years ago was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and one one of its key demands was a minimum living wage of $2 an hour for all Americans. That doesn’t sound like much but adjusted for inflation it’s equivalent to $14.80 today—more than double the current $7.25 minimum wage. The minimum wage then was $1.25, which is equivalent to about $9.25 now.

“Many Americans are stuck…and being left behind,” says Morial. “We need a new political consensus to confront the deep economic challenges we face.” Instead, he says, we have budget cuts and sequestration that have reduced growth and cut jobs.

On the bright side Morial sees entrepreneurship rising in the black community as more unemployed workers start their own businesses in order to survive. Such new businesses are ‘“one of the most powerful signs” in today's economy but they employ few workers, says Morial. “We need to unleash the power of those businesses to grow and create jobs.” Watch the video above to learn more about what's changed and what's stayed the same for many Americans since the March on Washington.

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