A Dream Deferred?
By James Jones, B.MORE Initiative Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
“I’ve seen my dream shattered as I’ve walked the streets…and seen young men and women, with a sense of utter hopelessness because they can’t find any jobs.”—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., July 4, 1964
On Monday, January 19th, the nation reflects on the courageous spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all he has done to create racial equality in America. Doctor King’s advocacy for racial equality however, was inextricably linked to a call for economic justice—hence the full title of his famous “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” In the past few decades, we have made significant progress as a nation in the struggle for equality; however, if we are truly going to strive to achieve Dr. King’s dream, we must ensure that economic equality and opportunity are available for all people.
It is clear that we still have a ways to go. Since the 1960s, the black unemployment rate has been about 2 to 2.5 times higher than the white unemployment rate. Many low-income minorities live in communities that have virtually no access to quality education or sustainable employment options. Unfair practices and policies in housing still restrict the vast majority of low-income blacks to live in areas with high concentrations of poverty and crime. Furthermore, U.S. incarceration rates have increased by 500% since the 1960s, leaving a large portion of our nation barred from employment due to felony conviction.
Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity focus on ensuring that everyone who wants to work has the tools and opportunities to do so. We recognize that to make Dr. King’s dream a reality and create economic equality, we need to address the needs of low-income and chronically unemployed Americans while also spurring systemic change. This means supporting programs and policies that help chronically unemployed Americans get and keep jobs. It is up to this generation to take up the torch and combat poverty and economic injustice, just as Dr. Martin Luther King called for.