August 27, 2013

Race in America: Key Data Points

In the 50 years since Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” fewer than half of Americans say the country has made substantial progress towards racial equality.


In asurvey conducted August 2013, 45% of all Americans said the country had made substantial progress toward racial equality, 36% said some progress had been made and 15% saw no progress. Significantly more whites and Hispanics said progress had been made than did blacks.

About half of Americans say that “a lot more” needs to be done to achieve King’s dream.

KDP_Lots_MoreAn overwhelming majority of Americans said in the August 2013 survey that  the slow and sometimes painful process of building a color-blind society remained largely unfinished business. About half of all Americans (49%) said the country still needed to make “a lot” more progress to become a truly color-blind society and 31% said some progress still needs to be made. Only 16% said little or nothing remains to be done.

There has been a fading of the heightened sense of progress that blacks felt immediately after Obama’s election in 2008.

KDP_Fading_SenseOnly about one-in-four African Americans (26%) said in the August 2013 survey that the situation of black people in this country was better now than it was five years ago, down sharply from the 39% who said the same in a 2009 survey. Among whites, the share that saw improvement in situation of blacks also fell, from 49% to 35%, in the last four years.

When it comes to household income and household wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened in the last 50 years.

KDP_Gaps_WidenThe black-white income gap widened, from about $19,000 in the late 1960s to roughly $27,000 as of 2011. The race gap on household wealth  increased from $75,224 in 1984 to $84,960 in 2011.

There are growing disparities between blacks and whites in key measures of family formation, such as marriage and births.

KDP_Marriage_BirthMarriage is considered an indicator of well-being in part because married adults are economically better off, although that may reflect the greater propensity of affluent adults to marry. In 2011, 55% of white adults ages 18 and older were married, compared with 31% of black adults ages 18 and older. In 2011, 72% of births to black women were to unmarried mothers, compared with 29% of births to white women.

The gaps between blacks and whites when it comes to the shares of their population above the poverty line and homeownership rates have changed little since King’s time.


Black Americans are nearly three times as likely as white Americans to live in poverty, according to 2012 government data. In 2012, black homeownership levels were 60% of white levels.

Areas in which gaps between whites and blacks have narrowed include high school completion, life expectancy and voter turnout.

KDP_Gaps_NarrowIn 1964, the black high school completion rate was 53% that of the white rate. In 2012, the black high school completion rate was 93% that of the white rate. The gap in life expectancy rates among blacks and whites has narrowed in the past five decades from about seven years to four. Black voter turnout — buoyed by the candidacies of Barack Obama – surpassed that of whites in 2012, when 67% of eligible blacks cast ballots, compared with 64% of eligible whites.

About a third (35%) of African Americans say they have personally experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity over the past year.

KDP_Blacks-DiscrimBlacks who have faced discrimination in the past year also are less likely than other blacks to say “a lot” of progress has been made toward racial equality (23% vs. 37%) and are significantly more likely to believe a lot more progress is necessary (87% vs. 74%).

Blacks are most likely to perceive unequal treatment by the court system and in their dealings with the police.


Seven-in-ten blacks said African Americans are treated less fairly than whites in their dealings with police, according to the August 2013 survey. Some 37% of whites said blacks were treated less fairly. A similar number (68%) of blacks said African Americans were not treated as fairly as whites by the courts; 27% of whites agreed with that view.

While relations between blacks, whites and Hispanics are not perfect, majorities of each group say they get along reasonably well.

KDP_IntergroupAbout three-quarters of respondents thought blacks and whites got along “very well” (13%) or “pretty well” (63%), according to the August 2013 survey. Whites were somewhat more likely than blacks or Hispanics to say blacks and whites got along well (81% among whites vs. 73% among blacks and 60% among Hispanics). About three-quarters of whites (77%) also said their group and Hispanics got along very well or fairly well, a view shared by a roughly equal share of Hispanics (74%). About two-thirds of all blacks (64%) also said the groups get along, though 12% say they do not know.

Black men were more than six times as likely as white men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails, the last year complete data are available. 

KDP_Jail_RateIn 2010, the incarceration rate for white men under local, state and federal jurisdiction was 678 inmates per 100,000 white U.S. residents; for black men, it was 4,347. In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the black male rate was 1,313, meaning that black men were five times as likely as white men to be incarcerated.

Index to other Key Data Point fact sheets