Thousands will gather today â€” and throughout much of the coming week â€” 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. Kingâ€™s words were powerful and his resolution was strong. But itâ€™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?
â€śFifty years ago, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks, according to the Economic Policy Institute,â€ť writes Zach Goldfarb in the Washington Post. â€śToday, it is 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks.â€ť
Adds Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, â€śIf you look at 50 years after the 1960s civil rights movement, the most stubborn and persistent challenge when it comes to the nationâ€™s racial challenge remains in the areas of economics and wealth.â€ť
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 â€śMarch on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.â€ť One of its leading demands was an increase in the minimum wage to $2 per hour.
And thatâ€™s one focus of the new March on Washington taking place today.
â€śJobs are still a major focus of the march 50 years later,â€ť says the organizer, the National Action Network. â€śUnemployment 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.â€ť
Thatâ€™s true â€” 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 â€śUnequal Harm: Racial Disparities in the Employment Consequences of Minimum Wage Increases.â€ť
That report shows that blacks â€” particularly young blacks â€” are disproportionately harmed by mandated minimum wage hikes.
â€śEach 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,â€ť they found. â€śBut among black males in this group, each 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreased employment by 6.5 percent.â€ť
As economist Walter Williams contends, â€śThe 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.â€ť
Dr. King called for an honest assessment of the policies that affect us all. Letâ€™s talk about jobs and the economy, by all means. And letâ€™s evaluate the evidence.
In what is probably a tactical mistake, the modern marchers have expanded the list to include â€śLBGT Equalityâ€ť and â€śEnvironmental Justice.â€ť They will spend time talking about college loan rates and abortion.
But the fundamental problems Dr. King spoke of have not yet been addressed.
Letâ€™s focus on those.