54 Years After the March on Washington, We’re Far From Racial Pay Equity

By Sarita Gupta

Fifty-four years ago this week, on Aug. 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event marked a turning point in our society in recognizing the need for civil rights and equality for African Americans. But it’s painfully clear we have yet to achieve the dream set forth that day by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Our nation remains divided along racial and class lines. The events in Charlottesville highlighted the terror that white supremacists still inflict upon people of color, religious minorities and the LGBTQ community.

But white supremacy goes well beyond the venomous hate spewed by neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other white nationalists. It permeates our economic systems, workplaces and institutions.

During the 1963 march, future Congressman John Lewis said, “We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. For they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all.” To this day, wages and job opportunities for African-Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups remain woefully behind that of whites.

Leaders of the rally, including King in the center, interlock hands and arms as they march

In the 50 years between the March on Washington and 2013, the unemployment rate for blacks was consistently twice as high as it was for whites. In July 2017, the unemployment rate was 7.4 percent for blacks and 5.1 percent for Latinos, but just 3.8 percent for whites.

Even getting a college education does not eliminate the disparity. One 2015 study found that while white households with college degrees have $180,000 in wealth on average, similarly educated black households have only $23,400. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, black households will not reach wealth parity with whites until 2241.

That’s nearly 280 years after the March on Washington.

On multiple fronts, there are vibrant movements that show us another world is possible. The Movement for Black Lives is on the front lines of advancing black power, freedom and justice. In 2016, the collective launched a policy platform aimed at the heart of structural racism, including a call for living wages, universal health care, and a jobs program.

People of color cannot overcome persistent wealth and wage gaps when structural racism and violence are the foundations of U.S. society. That’s why the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the Fight for $15’s tremendous gains in winning raises for more than 20 million working people are so notable. These movements are demanding dignified jobs and helping stop profitable restaurants, healthcare corporations, and airlines from paying shamefully low wages to the people of color who work for them.

This year’s mass resistance efforts spark the beginning of the civic engagement needed to bring about the change we want to see. We must reject the systems that oppress and disadvantage people of color and immigrants.

It is up to us to continue the legacy of those who sacrificed, marched and died for jobs and the freedom to build a just and inclusive society, at last.

Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of more than 40 local coalitions of labor, community, student, and faith organizations, working together to build a broader global movement for economic and social justice.

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