King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities


Five decades after Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., a new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that fewer than half (45 percent) of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality and about the same share (49 percent) say that “a lot more” remains to be done.

Blacks are much more downbeat than whites about the pace of progress toward a color-blind society. They also are more likely to say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites by police, the courts, public schools and other key community institutions.

For example, seven-in-ten blacks and about a third of whites (37 percent) say blacks are treated less fairly in their dealings with the police. About two-thirds of black respondents (68%) and a quarter of whites (27 percent) say blacks are not treated as fairly as whites in the courts.

The survey, conducted Aug. 1-11 among 2,231 adults, including 376 blacks and 218 Hispanics, also finds that large majorities of whites, blacks and Hispanics say their groups get along either “very well” or “fairly well” with each other. Still, about a third of all blacks (35 percent) say they had been discriminated against or treated unfairly because of their race in the past year, as do 20 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of whites.

These mixed views on progress toward racial equality found in the survey are echoed in the findings of a Pew Research Center trend analysis of government data on key indicators of well-being and civic engagement. The major findings of this analysis include:

Finances: Between 1967 and 2011 the median income of a black household of three rose from about $24,000 to nearly $40,000. Expressed as a share of white income, black households earn about 59% of what white households earn, a small increase from 55 percent in 1967. But when expressed as dollars, the black-white income gap widened, from about $19,000 in the late 1960s to roughly $27,000 today. The race gap on household wealth has increased from $75,224 in 1984 to $84,960 in 2011. Other indicators of financial well-being have changed little in recent decades, including the share of each race that live above the poverty line.

Education: High school completion rates have converged since the 1960s, and now about nine-in-ten blacks and whites have a high school diploma. The trend in college completion rates tell a more nuanced story. While the gap has doubled among blacks and whites from 6 percentage points in 1960 to 13 points today, the black completion rate as a percentage of the white rate has improved from 42 percent then to 62 percent now.

Family Formation: Marriage rates among whites and blacks have declined in the past 50 years, and the black-white difference has nearly doubled, with whites still more likely than blacks to be married. The share of births to unmarried women has risen sharply for both groups; black mothers of newborns today are about two and a half times as likely as whites to be unmarried — 72 percent vs. 29 percent.

Incarceration: Black men were more than six times as likely as white men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails. That is an increase from 1960, when black men were five times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

Voter Turnout: Participation rates for blacks in presidential elections has lagged behind those of whites for most of the past half-century. But the gap has been closing since 1996 and black turnout surpassed white participation 2012.

Life Expectancy: The gap in life expectancy rates among blacks and whites has narrowed in the past five decades from about seven years to four.


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