FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality

January 15th marked what would’ve been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday.

Most known for his famous “I Have Dream Speech,” King envisioned a future in which deep racial inequalities — including deep economic inequality — was eradicated. He worked tirelessly towards that mission.

Over 50 years after his assassination, sensational media stories have focused heavily on the black unemployment rate, which has reached historic lows.

President Trump was quick to claim credit for this improvement last year, tweeting: “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” (The rapper had recently criticized the president for a racist statement about African countries.)

These headlines (and boasts) don’t tell the whole story, though. Most importantly, they exclude data on overall wealth — a critical measure of financial security. Wealth buffers families from the ups and downs of income changes and economic cycles, and allows households to take advantage of opportunities.

A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies takes a more holistic look at where the country is in terms of racial economic parity. It reveals deep, pervasive, and ongoing racial economic division.

The study shows that wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands over time. And though working white people also struggle, the hands at the very top are overwhelmingly white. Far from closing, America’s polarizing racial wealth divide is continuing to grow between white households and households of color.

Over the past three decades, the report notes, “the median black family saw their wealth drop by a whopping 50 percent, compared to a 33 percent increase for the median white household.”

King foreshadowed that if we maintain our exploitive economic and political systems, then we’d get not only racial apartheid, but economic apartheid as well.

And unfortunately, that is exactly where we’re heading without systemic change. While one in five Americans of any race have zero or even negative wealth, in the last 30 years we’ve seen the number of households with $10 million or more skyrocket by 856 percent.

The widening of the racial wealth divide has coincided with the extreme concentration of U.S. wealth. We’re currently living in an economy where the Forbes 400 own more wealth than all black households, plus a quarter of Latino households, combined.

As much as we cite the vision that MLK laid out for America, decades later we’ve not moved in the right direction.

This dynamic is the result of public policies that favor the wealthy, not the “invisible hand” of the market. This has implications for the racial wealth divide, as well as the entire economy. As the U.S. diversifies, these inequalities are actually driving down America’s total median wealth — and giving the already rich that much more of a leg up over everyone else.

As the mid-20th century civil rights movement recognized, a major shift in economic policy is needed to end the racial inequality of the past and create a new nation with opportunity for all. Inaction — or worse, repeating the same mistakes that led to this situation — will simply widen the divide and create greater economic instability for the country at large. And I’ll be writing this same piece again next year.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
Jon Rynn
What a Green New Deal Should Look Like: Filling in the Details
David Swanson
Will the U.S. Senate Let the People of Yemen Live?
Dana E. Abizaid
On Candace Owens’s Praise of Hitler
Raouf Halaby
‘Tiz Kosher for Elected Jewish U.S. Officials to Malign
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
W. T. Whitney
Caribbean Crosswinds: Revolutionary Turmoil and Social Change 
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Avoiding Authoritarian Socialism
Howard Lisnoff
Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate
Ralph Nader
The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS
Cindy Garcia
Trump Pledged to Protect Families, Then He Deported My Husband
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
Louis Proyect
The Revolutionary Films of Raymundo Gleyzer
Sarah Anderson
If You Hate Campaign Season, Blame Money in Politics
Victor Grossman
Contrary Creatures
Tamara Pearson
Children Battling Unhealthy Body Images Need a Different Narrative About Beauty
Peter Knutson
The Salmon Wars in the Pacific Northwest: Banning the Rough Customer
Binoy Kampmark
Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet
Robert Koehler
The Music That’s in All of Us
Norah Vawter
The Kids Might Save Us
Tracey L. Rogers
Freedom for All Begins With Freedom for the Most Marginalized
Paul Armentano
Marijuana Can Help Fight Opioid Abuse
Tom Clifford
Britain’s Return to the South China Sea
Graham Peebles
Young People Lead the Charge to Change the World
Matthew Stevenson
A Pacific Odyssey: Around General MacArthur’s Manila Stage Set
B. R. Gowani
Starbucks Guy Comes Out to Preserve Billionaire Species
David Yearsley
Bogart Weather
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail