Press Releases

News from EPI Unfinished March: Hard economic tasks of the march remain a distant dream

Fifty years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, most of its goals have not been accomplished, a new EPI report finds. In The Unfinished March: An Overview, Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, explains that while the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led to legislative victories—including mandating equal access to public accommodations, barring racial discrimination in employment, and protecting blacks’ voting rights—the hard economic tasks of the march remain a distant dream. The remaining goals of the march include the demand for decent housing, adequate and integrated education, full employment, and a national minimum wage that can realistically lift a family out of poverty—all of which are crucial to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans and people of all races and ethnicities. View the report’s infographic, “The Unfinished Business of the 1963 March on Washington.”

“The economic agenda of the civil rights activists of the 1960s has been largely ignored. Large numbers of African Americans still lack decent and safe housing. They still lack adequate and integrated education, full employment, and a guaranteed living wage, all of which are essential to blacks’ full social and economic inclusion in American society,” said Austin. “In hindsight, the organizers of the march were correct: Achieving rights without fully obtaining the resources to actualize them is only a partial victory. In this 50th anniversary year of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we can best pay tribute to the march and all that it stood for by recommitting to achieving its unfinished goals.”

Today, the black poverty rate is still nearly three times the white poverty rate. The persistence of high poverty and residential segregation means that nearly half (45 percent) of poor black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, compared to a little more than a tenth (12 percent) of poor white children. African Americans disproportionately reside in impoverished neighborhoods, which limit opportunities for upward mobility.

Nearly 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, America’s schools are still largely racially segregated and unequal. In the late 1960s, 76.6 percent of black children attended majority black schools. In 2010, nearly three-fourths (74.1 percent) of black students still attend segregated schools, most often with fewer resources. The average school with 90 percent or more nonwhite students has $443,000 less to spend on students than the average school with 90 percent or more white students.

Though leaders of the march also demanded a jobs program that would achieve full employment for all, blacks still continually suffer from high unemployment. From the 1960s to today, the black unemployment rate has been about 2 to 2.5 times the white unemployment rate. In 2012, the black unemployment rate was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate (6.6 percent) and higher than the average national unemployment rate of 13.1 percent over the years of the Great Depression (1929-1939).

Finally, the March for Jobs and Freedom demanded a minimum wage that could lift a family out of poverty, specifically, a wage that would be more than $13.00 an hour today after adjusting for inflation. In 2011, more than a third of non-Hispanic black workers (36 percent) did not earn hourly wages high enough to lift a family of four out of poverty, even if they worked full-time.

View full infographic at

This paper launches a new Economic Policy Institute project, The Unfinished March, that will review America’s civil rights successes as well as the significant amount of civil rights work that remains to be done and will be followed by a series of nine reports written by some of the nation’s leading experts. Each report will address a specific civil rights goal, the progress that has or has not been made, and, if necessary, the policy measures needed to fully realize the goal. In addition, on Monday, July 22, EPI will host a symposium on the history of the march and the current economic and political challenges facing communities of color.

EPI is grateful for the generous support we received for this project from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Jules Bernstein and Linda Lipsett. EPI would also like to acknowledge the organizations that are co-sponsoring this project, including AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, SEIU, the NAACP, the Center for Community Change, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, PolicyLink and the National Council of La Raza.