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 a survey conducted Aug. 1-11, 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.
An overwhelming majority of Americans say the slow and sometimes painful process of building a color-blind society remains largely unfinished business. About half of all Americans (49%) say the country still needs to make “a lot” more progress to become a truly color-blind society and 31% say some progress still needs to be made. Only 16% say 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.
Today, only about one-in-four African Americans (26%) say the situation of black people in this country is 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 sees 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.
The black-white income gap widened, from about $19,000 in the late 1960s to roughly $27,000 today. The race gap on household wealth has 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.
Marriage 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.
Areas in which gaps between whites and blacks have narrowed include high school completion, life expectancy and voter turnout.
In 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.
Blacks 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 say African Americans are treated less fairly than whites in their dealings with police. Some 37% of whites say blacks are treated less fairly. A similar number (68%) of blacks say African Americans are not treated as fairly as whites by the courts; 27% of whites agree with that view.
While relations between blacks, whites and Hispanics are not perfect, majorities of each group say they get along reasonably well.
About three-quarters of respondents think blacks and whites get along “very well” (13%) or “pretty well” (63%). Whites are somewhat more likely than blacks or Hispanics to say blacks and whites get along well (81% among whites vs. 73% among blacks and 60% among Hispanics). About three-quarters of whites (77%) also say their group and Hispanics get 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 say 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.
In 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.
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