King’s Dream: Is it reality today? Look at these gaps …

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series King's Dream
This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called "King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities." Click on the chart to visit the Pew page for this study.

This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities.” Click on the chart to visit the Pew website and download the entire 46-page report.

Dr. Wayne Baker returns today! His first column …

Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Other notables gave speeches that day, but King’s became famous here and around the world.

Some say King’s dream words are inscribed on the hearts of Americans. It is true that “I Have a Dream” is inscribed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the very spot where he spoke—but how much of King’s dream is reality today?

There are many answers to that question. We’ll consider several this week, so please check back Monday through Friday.

Where do we stand financially?

Today, we look at the issue of economic freedom—a major theme in King’s speech. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington, as it is typically called now. Its official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, highlighting the twin themes of economic freedom and civil rights. The economic gulf between whites and blacks was wide 50 years ago.

QUESTION: How much do you think the financial gap has closed? A little? A lot?

ANSWER: Not at all, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The median household income for blacks is $39,760, according to the latest U.S. Census data, while the figure for whites is $67,175. Put differently, the median household income of blacks today is 59% of the median household income for whites. In 1967, it was 55% of white household income. Since 1967, the black incomes have fluctuated between 54% to 65% of white incomes.

QUESTION: How about wealth?

ANSWER: Same story. The average net worth of a white household today is $91,405, while the wealth figure for black households is $6,446. Over time, the gap between white and black wealth has increased, says Pew.

QUESTION: How about home ownership?

ANSWER: This is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream. About three of four white households (73%) own their own homes. Among black households, the figure is 44%. The gap in home ownership has fluctuated over the years, but the rate of black home ownership is the same today as it was in 1976.

Of course, there have been some improvements, as we’ll consider this week. Today, however, the economic indicators tell a grim story—at least by these measures, King’s Dream is as far from reality today as it was 50 years ago.

Are you surprised by these comparisons?

How do you interpret them?


As the creator and main Our Values columnist through the years, I want to express my thanks to our guest authors this summer! I appreciate their contributions: Dmitri Barvinok, David Crumm, Rodney Curtis, Terry Gallagher, and Joe Grimm!

Series NavigationKing’s Dream: Have we moved toward racial equality? >>
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Categories: Equal OpportunitiesGetting Ahead


  1. Rev. Rich Peacock says:

    MLK identified the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism as the problems we face. Materialism is now seen in the extreme income inequality. Racism in the disproportional jailing of black men contributes to the economic inequities. Plus, Pentagon spending produces fewer jobs that hiring teachers, nurses, and road workers.

  2. David Thompson says:

    I am not at all surprised at the poor showing of minorities (of all types). The reason however, may not deal so much with just racism but with the growing inequality between the have/Wealthy and the have not/ poor over all. The wealthy also buy protection via the legislative processes both State & Federal that isolates them from the growing disparity. The is no middle class, black or white, in the United States today ( Asian, or Hispanic, etc.) so the divide is really polarizing. Now this will fall upon minorities in unfair proportions to whites but it is a far more serious issue today then 50 years ago before global markets really sapped our industries. We now have several “lost” generations; black youth, young white college graduates, Hispanics, etc. that are shut out of having decent jobs with some options for advancement and increases in pay to be able to secure any part of this American dream.