This is being written on April 4, 2018; 50 years ago, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. This anniversary affords an opportunity to consider the state of America regarding three things that were of great concern to Dr. King. These are discrimination, segregation and poverty.
On the face of it, it would seem foolish to deny that things are better in 2018 than they were in 1968. After all, civil rights have been enshrined into law, racial discrimination is generally illegal, and people are free to live and go where they will. While this all seems true, it would be even more foolish to deny that discrimination, segregation and poverty are not still problems.
While there are laws against discrimination, there are always gaps between the laws that can be exploited. And, of course, there are always those who simply break the laws. Discrimination still, like a bacterial infestation, flourishes in this land that purports to worship equality and justice. The legal system provides numerous examples of discrimination, ranging from the use of force to sentencing for identical crimes. Economic discrimination is also rampant and features predatory lending that targets minorities, unfair hiring practices and other such economic injustices.
Legally, a person (who is not a convicted sexual predator, etc.) in the United States can live anywhere they can afford to rent or buy. So, for example, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to a person because they are insufficiently white. However, the United States is still highly segregated. Everyone knows that certain areas of any multiracial city or town are the “black”, “white”, etc. areas. While there are isolated exceptions, these anecdotes about black neighbors do not counter the statistical data.
What might surprise some is that public schools are becoming increasingly segregated. This is despite past efforts to explicitly address segregation. It seems certain that the situation will worsen, especially as there is ever greater power behind the privatization of education and school voucher programs. One consequence, one would hope is unintended, is that white students flee from failing schools while minority students tend to remain trapped. Many proposed solutions to this problem involve doubling down on privatization and vouchers, which is rather like trying to extinguish a wood fire by doubling the wood in the fire.
While the United States is supposed to be the land of merit and opportunity, it suffers from brutal economic inequality. The United States, apparently, now matches the oligarch ruled Russia in inequality. While the American dream has involved the idea of upward mobility, the wage gap is the largest it has ever been. Of course, inequality itself need not be bad—if those who work hard are doing well it is can be acceptable, even desirable, for exceptional performers to receive exceptional rewards that vastly exceed those earned by the little people. However, this is not the case.
The current poverty rate, as defined by the state, is 12.7%. While there is the usual narrative that the poor deserve to be poor, this does seem to be a rather large percentage of poor people for the wealthiest country on the planet.
Fortunately, the news is not all bad. While wages have generally been stagnating, there has been an upward tick in median household income and a decrease in poverty. Also, as Trump said, household income had been declining since 2000. As such, poverty is still a serious problem, as it was in 1968.
While Dr. King saw the promised land, it still lies far away.