50 Years After 'I Have a Dream,' Americans Say There's Still a Long Way to Go to Racial Equality

A new study looking at race in America 50 years after Martin Luther King's speech at the March on Washington shows that nearly half of all Americans think there's a lot of work left to be done to achieve racial equality. And some racial gaps in the United States are still stark.

The survey, from the Pew Research Center, shows that almost half of Americans think that real racial progress has been made in the past five decades. But the racial breakdown shows a big contrast:


(Pew Research Center)

Significantly fewer black Americans think "a lot" of progress has been made, compared with white and Hispanic respondents. And, by a large margin, more black respondents believe there's a lot left to accomplish.

The survey found that in the five years since Barack Obama was inaugurated, the percentage of Americans who say the "situation of black people is better today, compared with five years ago" has significantly dropped. For white respondents, the number went from 49 percent in 2009 to 35 percent in the new survey. For black respondents, it dropped from 39 percent to 26 percent. In both instances, the new numbers more closely resemble the 2007 responses, just before the recession struck.

When you look at some of the major racial disparities in the U.S. economy, there is some obvious reason for the renewed pessimism.

In the past 40 years, some gaps in equality have significantly widened, according to Pew's analysis:


In addition, the black poverty rate is nearly double the white poverty rate. And the unemployment rate for African-Americans has been consistently higher than that for white Americans. In July, the black unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. The white unemployment rate was 6.6 percent.

There are also areas where the gaps have barely budged—and that's not a good thing for equality:


But it's not all bad news. Some real progress has been made in closing racial gaps in the last several decades:


In the political realm, some progress is obvious. In addition to the first black president, there are more black members of Congress today than in 1963. In 1963, during the 88th Congress, there were five black members in the House. At the start of the current 113th Congress, there were 42. In 1963, there were no black senators. Today, there are—well, there is just one, although the Senate briefly had two African-Americans. As many Americans already know, there are some areas where there's still plenty of progress left to be made.