As the nation today celebrates the national holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., people coast to coast should demand that Barack Obama as the country’s first black president do more to help African-Americans.
Obama last year spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He should’ve told the crowd what his administration will do to end the continuing inequities black people face in America. Even his staunchest critics wouldn’t have faulted him for using that historic moment to act. But he didn’t.
It was at the march on Aug. 28, 1963, that King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, describing the racism and injustices African-Americans faced. Then-President John Kennedy welcomed the march organizers to the White House afterward.
Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but President Lyndon Johnson continued the charge toward equality getting Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson also 50 years ago this month launched his war on poverty.
People were excited that Obama’s presidency promised hope and change. Data from a 2013 Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project shows that blacks in the 2008 presidential election nearly caught up to white voter turnout, and then surpassed it in 2012 when 67 percent of eligible blacks cast ballots compared with 64 percent of eligible whites.
But the hope has faded as problems among blacks continued unaddressed. Only about 26 percent of African-Americans say their situation in America is better now than it was five years ago, down from the 39 percent who said the same in a 2009 Pew Research Center survey. In the eyes of white people, an improvement for blacks also fell from 49 percent to 35 percent.
To address the inequality and rebuild the hope, Obama could use the 2013 Pew study as a blueprint. Its analysis of government data shows little progress has occurred for blacks from the 1960s to now.
“The analysis finds that the economic gulf between blacks and whites that was present half a century ago largely remains,” the study said. “When it comes to household income and household wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened.”
The differences have narrowed in high school completion and life expectancy. “On other measures, including poverty and homeownership rates, the gaps are roughly the same as they were 40 years ago,” the study notes.
Obama has dropped the ball on addressing these black problems in addition to the growth of single-parent households.
The Pew study showed that between 1967 and 2011, the median income of a black household of three rose from $24,000 to nearly $40,000. But blacks today only earn about 59 percent of what whites make, “a small increase from 55 percent in 1967.”
“The race gap on household wealth has increased from $75,224 in 1984 to $84,960 in 2011,” the report said. The black unemployment rate since the 1950s has stayed about double white joblessness.
“Other indicators of financial well-being have changed little in recent decades, including homeownership rates and the share of each race that lives above the poverty line,” the study said. The incarceration rate for black men in 2010 was more than six times that of white men. In 1960, black men were five times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.
More blacks than whites said they are treated less fairly by the police, courts, schools and elsewhere. King noted more than 50 years ago that black people in America had been given “a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
The debt remains unpaid. Only now, Obama is “the man” who must change the way things have always been.