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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On August 28: Some Progress Toward the "Dream"

Fifty years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Some of that day's "Dream" has come true.  See the President of the United States for evidence.  The Attorney General.  Two Secretaries of State, one of them a woman and both named by a Republican President.  Supreme Court Justices.  Leaders in business too:  Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express; Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co.; and of course, Oprah, among numerous others.  Bishops of the Episcopal Church and many other church leaders.  We have to believe the Rev. Dr. King would be pleased.

For the vast majority of African Americans, the results so far present a "glass half-full/half-empty" image.  First, some of the "half-empty" part – note in citing these that we use the term "black" because that's the way the government sources generally describe it – black unemployment in July was 12.6% versus 7.4% overall.  Median income of black households in 2011 (latest available) was $32,229 compared to $50,054 overall, with white households at $52,214 and Asians at $64,995.  The poverty rate that year was 27.6% for the black population compared to 15% overall and 12.8% for whites.  38.8% of black children and youth under age 18 live in poverty.  Just 42.1% of black households owned their own homes in the second quarter of this year, rather than renting, while white homeownership was 73.3%.[1]

If we stopped here, we could be pretty discouraged.  We don't know how to begin to conjure how long it should take for us all to achieve some kind of parity.  The U.S. Census Bureau, in commemoration of this occasion, last week published a summary of the above concepts along with some others that can give us a lift – thus portraying the glass as half-full.  In 2011, there were 10,500 African-Americans in elected office compared to a mere 1,469 in 1970.  Despite all we hear about high school dropouts, in 2012, 85% of blacks over age 25 had completed four years of high school, totaling 20.3 million people, a massive improvement from just 25.7% or 2.4 million in 1964. There were 2.6 million black college undergraduates in 2012, more than ten times the 234,000 in 1964; the proportion of the black population who are college graduates was 21.2% in 2012 compared with 3.9% in 1964.

Our own exploration of data from the Labor Department and Census Bureau about occupations shows that in 2012, 6.9% of business managers were African American, while just 1.9% were of that race in 1970.  The comparison is actually more powerful than these percentages indicate: the number of African Americans in management positions appears to have multiplied by some 22 times.[2]  Of another, totally different occupation, scientists, there were a mere 6,500 African Americans in 1970, while in 2012, there were about 75,000, more than eleven times as many.

So we see tremendous progress time-wise, with many more African Americans doing much better things with their lives now than they were in 1963.  Yes, we also know that probably too many of them are in jail and hampered by drug abuse and other social issues.[3] But at least we know that many have come a long way.  Today, we give that upward movement some notice and see room for encouragement. 

[1]U.S. Commerce Department, U.S. Census Bureau News.  "The 50 Anniversary of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech and the March . . . ." August 21, 2013.  Our attention was drawn to this by an essay from David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal on August 24:

[2] General readers may be indifferent, but professional economists may care we examined Census data from 1970 and compared them with Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2012.  The Census data are an absolute count, while the BLS information is a sample survey.  Occupational categories have also been reorganized, so the numbers are not completely comparable.  Thus, our qualitative description of some of the time comparisons instead of precise figures.

[3]We actually started to look at FBI and Department of Justice crime and incarceration data.  We found that far too involved a pursuit for our sketch here.  It's clearly a topic for more exploration, since the situation must be understood more and improved upon.

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