Monday’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on how far the country has come and to acknowledge the undeniable advancements African Americans have made, and to consider the goals that remain unmet. Last year, EPI released the Unfinished March, a series of reports that detailed the remaining steps to fully achieve the goals of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet to be achieved are the hard economic goals, critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans. They include decent housing, adequate and integrated education, full employment, and a national minimum wage that can realistically lift a family out of poverty.
The employment trends for African Americans over the past decade, as seen in this week’s Economic Snapshot, show just how much work remains to be done just to achieve the goal of full employment. While the economic woes of the past few years have worsened labor market prospects for all workers, for African American workers the employment situation is significantly worse, akin to depression-level conditions. An estimated 19.6 percent of black workers (nearly one in five) were unemployed at some point in 2013. Furthermore, given unemployment projections for 2014, it is likely that 17.4 percent of black workers will be unemployed at some point this year.
Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be this way. Recommitting ourselves to achieving Dr. King’s goals means implementing policies that would aid all U.S. workers, including large-scale ongoing public investments, the restoration of public services and public-sector employment cut in the recession and its aftermath, and the renewal of federal unemployment insurance benefits. Passing these policies would not only celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, but also help working families, of all races, across the country.