Thousands will gather today — and throughout much of the coming week — in Washington D.C. to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 50th anniversary of his March on Washington.
As well they should. Dr. King’s words were powerful and his resolution was strong. But it’s worth asking whether the solutions he sought and the programs he advocated have met the needs of the African-Americans who marched beside him.
And as the march is re-enacted this weekend, what solutions would work?
“Fifty years ago, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks, according to the Economic Policy Institute,” writes Zach Goldfarb in the Washington Post. “Today, it is 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks.”
Adds Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, “If you look at 50 years after the 1960s civil rights movement, the most stubborn and persistent challenge when it comes to the nation’s racial challenge remains in the areas of economics and wealth.”
In fact, the original March on Washington was as much about economics as it was civil rights. The full name of the event was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” One of its leading demands was an increase in the minimum wage to $2 per hour.
And that’s one focus of the new March on Washington taking place today.
“Jobs are still a major focus of the march 50 years later,” says the organizer, the National Action Network. “Unemployment is still plaguing many communities. The black community still sees double the unemployment rates of the rest of the country. Youth unemployment is nearly six times higher.”
That’s true — but is a higher minimum wage the answer? History and the evidence say no.
Economists William Even of Miami University in Ohio and David Macpherson of Trinity University here in Texas recently issued a report called “Unequal Harm: Racial Disparities in the Employment Consequences of Minimum Wage Increases.”
That report shows that blacks — particularly young blacks — are disproportionately harmed by mandated minimum wage hikes.
“Each 10 percent increase in a state or federal minimum wage has decreased employment by 2.5 percent; for Hispanic males, the figure is 1.2 percent,” they found. “But among black males in this group, each 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreased employment by 6.5 percent.”
As economist Walter Williams contends, “The best way to sabotage chances for upward mobility of a youngster from a single-parent household, who resides in a violent slum and has attended poor-quality schools is to make it unprofitable for any employer to hire him.”
Dr. King called for an honest assessment of the policies that affect us all. Let’s talk about jobs and the economy, by all means. And let’s evaluate the evidence.
In what is probably a tactical mistake, the modern marchers have expanded the list to include “LBGT Equality” and “Environmental Justice.” They will spend time talking about college loan rates and abortion.
But the fundamental problems Dr. King spoke of have not yet been addressed.
Let’s focus on those.