Guest: Economic recovery has left African Americans behind
African Americans have been left out of the economic recovery, writes guest columnist Larry Gossett.
Special to The Times
THIS month we will observe the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I have a dream” speech.
An estimated 250,000 people participated in the peaceful demonstration on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In response to increasing political pressure, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
As we reflect on this momentous event, we must acknowledge the difficult road that lies ahead if we are to fulfill America’s full promise of justice and liberty for all.
It is no secret that minorities, especially blacks, have been hardest hit by the recession that began in 2008, and have been largely left out of the fragile economic recovery here in Martin Luther King Jr. County and across the country.
According to the National Urban League’s 2013 State of Black America’s Equality Index, the black unemployment rate hovers around 15 percent and African Americans still earn almost 20 percent less than whites for the same work.
The landmark study “The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide,” conducted by Dr. Thomas Shapiro, clearly shows the wealth differential between black and white families, based on net worth and income, has dramatically increased. In 1984, the black-white family wealth differential was about $85,000. In 2009, the gap had ballooned to $254,000, a staggering 191 percent increase.
In a recent presentation to the Metropolitan King County Council, demographer Chandler Felt shared that the median household income for African Americans is $37,000, compared with $72,000 for the median white household. This means that the median black family is living on 49 percent less than the median white family.
Despite these sobering statistics, some powerful groups and individuals are calling for the elimination of some measures enacted to remedy past discrimination and to alleviate these glaring disparities that exist today. (Just look at the recent Supreme Court rulings on voting rights and affirmative action.) Those who seek to roll back protections often cite the election of President Barack Obama as evidence that we now live in a colorblind America. They believe black people have essentially “overcome” and there is no need to continue special constitutional equity efforts.
It is true that black people have made some great strides forward over the past 50 years. We have seen the overthrow of Jim Crow laws, the continued erosion of the most brutal forms of racism and the growth of the black middle class. There has been an increase in high-school and college enrollment and graduation rates among African-American students, growth in black homeownership and increased representation of blacks in just about every cultural, economic, social, educational and political institution in our country.
But there is still a great need to advocate for the transformative actions necessary to create jobs and achieve true freedom for all in our nation.
To realize Dr. King’s dream of a truly equitable and democratic society, we must build a strong coalition of consciousness that attracts blacks and people of goodwill from every sector of our population.
If persistent inequality is to be eliminated in America, this coalition will have to stimulate the development of a major social and political movement. The most urgent goal of this movement must be the creation of an economy that produces livable wage jobs for all.
At the same time, this movement must develop strategies that assure everyone has access to affordable health care. Dramatic efforts must also be initiated to improve the quality of our public schools for poor and working-class children, especially early childhood education and child-care services.
This is why I am so excited about a growing chorus of community-based organizations led by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the MLK Jr. Celebration Committee, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the NAACP, the United Black Christian Clergy, the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the M.L. King County Labor Council. The groups are coming together to sponsor a rally and march at 10 a.m. on Aug. 17 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street in Seattle.
Larry Gossett is chair of the Metropolitan King County Council.