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Sixty years later, policy has failed to meet the March on Washington’s economic demands

New EPI report shows that racial economic disparities have persisted with limited policy focus on racial equity

 EPI News l August 1, 2023

With this month marking 60 years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a new Economic Policy Institute report finds that post-civil rights era legislation has largely failed to address widening disparities in wages, wealth, and homeownership for Black Americans.

Key findings include:

  • Racial wage and wealth gaps have persisted. A typical Black worker is paid 23.4% less per hour than a typical white worker, a wider gap than it was in 1973 (22.3%). Meanwhile, the typical white family has eight times as much wealth as the typical Black family.
  • Black workers’ wages have lagged productivity. While productivity broadly increased 61.7% from 1979 to 2020, Black workers’ wages grew only 18.9% over that period.
  • Black homeownership rates are lower now than in 1970. In 1970, the Black home ownership rate was 49.7%. In 2020, that rate was 45%.
  • Black workers’ unionization rates have dropped sharply. Historically, Black workers have had much higher rates of union coverage than white workers—but the gap has narrowed as union coverage rates have declined.
  • Black workers have experienced consistently higher unemployment rates. During the past 50 years, the annual Black unemployment rate has often exceeded 10%, while white workers have never seen an annual unemployment rate above 10%, even during economic downturns.

The report explores the policy demands the Civil Rights Movement championed through the March on Washington and the Kerner Commission. The combined efforts of many moved the U.S. Congress to pass sweeping civil rights legislation to reverse oppressive Jim Crow laws and broadly combat discrimination against people of color. While this movement succeeded in removing key barriers to equal rights under the law, many economic demands were left unmet. Failure to address these has adversely impacted the economic security of people of color and exacerbated many of the long-standing racial disparities in economic outcomes present today.

“Many associate the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. What is often forgotten, however, are the marchers’ urgent calls to raise the minimum wage, build affordable housing, and strengthen voters’ rights—sweeping reforms that could transform American lives. Although we have made strides in racial equity, there are miles to go before King’s dream is a reality,” said Adewale A. Maye, policy and research analyst at EPI and author of the report.

The report concludes with policy recommendations to safeguard the basic rights and freedoms of Black Americans. Racial economic inequalities will persist without legislation explicitly targeting and remedying the injustices left unresolved by race-neutral policies, which disregard the challenges that specific racial or ethnic groups face. The U.S. can achieve the dream of racial equity and justice through the implementation of race-conscious policies with equity as a clearly defined and measurable policy goal.

New fact sheet shows that unions support a more equitable economy

EPI News l July 31, 2023

Unions help to significantly reduce racial economic disparities and provide a significant boost to women’s pay, according to a new Economic Policy Institute fact sheet. This is largely the result of the union pay premium and the enhanced job protections enjoyed by workers covered by a union contract.

Key findings include:

  • Workers in unions have higher wages. Unionized workers earn on average 13.5% more in wages than nonunionized peers.
  • Unions reduce racial and ethnic pay gaps. Black workers are more likely than white workers to be union members, and they earn on average 14.6% more in wages than nonunionized peers. Hispanic workers have slightly lower union coverage than white workers but have a much higher union wage advantage (a 17.6% boost in pay).
  • Racial wealth gaps are much smaller for union members. Among nonunion families, the median white family has more than $7 in wealth for every $1 held by the median Black family. Among union families, this ratio is roughly half as large, with the median white family holding $3.70 in wealth for every $1 held by the median Black family.
  • Unions boost women’s pay. Hourly wages for women represented by unions are 9.5% higher on average than for nonunionized women with comparable characteristics. Union-represented workers in service occupations (which include food service and janitorial services) are paid 47.7% more in wages than their nonunion counterparts. These occupations are disproportionately held by women.

Unions also provide workers with additional job protections, including due process protections which guard against arbitrary dismissals based on race and gender discrimination. Further, unions play a role in strengthening our democracy—previous EPI research shows that voter turnout is higher in states with greater levels of unionization.

However, the right to a union and collective bargaining has been eroded for decades as employers exploit weaknesses in current labor law. The authors of the fact sheet call on Congress to restore workers’ fundamental rights, including by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

Unions are essential to an equitable economy. Through collective bargaining, marginalized workers can build enough power to improve their living and working conditions, and as a result the health and lives of their families and communities,” said Kyle K. Moore, an economist with EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. “It’s long past time Congress acts to strengthen workers’ right to join unions and bargaining collectively.”

President Biden has advanced worker rights in the first 18 months of his administration, but there’s much more to do

News From EPT Report • By Margaret Poydock, Ihna Mangundayao, Adewale A. Maye, Celine McNicholas, and Andrea Sanchez-Tercero  l September 2, 2022

A new EPI report lays out the major actions Biden and Democrats have taken to protect and support workers in the first 18 months of the Biden administration—including passing a major fiscal stimulus package to address the COVID-19 pandemic and appointing pro-worker leaders to key federal positions.

At the beginning of President Biden’s term, of the 22 million jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic recession, 60% had yet to be restored and the recovery had stalled. President Biden took office faced with the enormous task of restarting the recovery and halting, reversing, and withdrawing Trump’s pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda.

In the last year and a half, Biden has:

  • Passed comprehensive fiscal stimulus to address the coronavirus pandemic
  • Passed critical and historic infrastructure and climate investments
  • Raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15/hour 
  • Restored NLRB’s purpose of protecting workers and advancing collective bargaining rights
  • Nominated pro-worker, pro–racial economic justice individuals to key positions
  • Nominated a Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, with a history of protecting workers’ rights
  • Withdrew Trump-era executive orders and rules that would have curtailed efforts to combat federal workplace discrimination and undermined federal workers’ rights to unionize

“These actions are incredibly important for workers, but they are just a start. The freedom to form a union, and a strong national wage floor, are foundational and are two of the most powerful tools Congress can grant workers to advance their rights. Not until these measures are in place can we begin to make real progress toward reducing racial and gender wage gaps and addressing economic inequality overall,” said Margaret Poydock, Policy Analyst and Government Affairs Specialist at EPI.

Felicia Roberts took an idea gathered a few people to reached into a minority community to highlight the positive, using a minority newspaper the Central Valley Voice. Roberts was joined by her sisters Carolyn Williams, Alleashia Thomas, niece Hermonie Lynn Williams, nephew Ron Williams, cousin Jerald Lester, Jay Slaffey, Greg Savage, Tim Daniels and the late J Denise Fontaine. Each individual played an important role in the birth of the newspapers. Since, then many have stood strong behind the success of the newspapers and its goal to fill a void in the Central Valley community. The Central Valley Voice published their 1st issue in November 1991. Its purposed was to highlight the achievements of minorities in the Central Valley. The Voice focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans and Hispanics giving young people role models while diminishing the stereotypical pictures of gangs, crime and violence that permeate the minority communities. Since 1991, the Central Valley Voice has provided an important voice for the minority community throughout the Madera, Merced. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

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