Findings Friday | 50 Years On: Recommitting to Jobs and Freedom

August 30, 2013
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As the nation commemorates 50 years since the March on Washington, researchers and thought leaders reflect on new data on upward mobility, education and jobs that suggests the sector should recommit our resources to issues of civil rights.

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a moment when the civil rights movement crescendoed into Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a call to action in the most public of forums–demanding education, jobs, a living wage, and equality.

Earlier this week, the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) pointed out the sector’s roots in the civil rights movement and stated, “Civil rights, in our view, is a core value of the nonprofit sector, even if nonprofits’ specific prescriptions might differ.”  So it’s with this context, fifty years on, that we look at persisting disparities illustrated in several recently released reports.  Below, we've posted excerpts from new data from researchers and thought leaders surrounding the issues of the intersection of civil rights, education and employment.


“Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American history knows that the Southeast has long been challenged by entrenched intergenerational poverty largely as a legacy of our challenging past.” That’s how Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed rebutted a recent Harvard/UC Berkeley study popularized by the New York Times last month. The report vividly illustrated the Southeast’s struggle with upward mobility – that is (for the purposes of this study), the likelihood of escaping the lowest quintile of family income and reaching the highest.

The New York Times

While the research is arguably oversimplified, it is a useful metric in observing the underlying historical discrimination in education, employment and equality, echoing the message that was delivered fifty years ago – one we’re still struggling to overcome.


At the foundation of these broader economic issues with the end goal being equal opportunity, is education. In July, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege. The report demonstrates the increasing stratification of two- and four-year academic institutions across racially significant lines, even when controlled for individual merit. “Since 1995, 82 percent of new white enrollments have gone to the 468 most selective colleges, while 72 percent of new Hispanic enrollment and 68 percent of new African-American enrollment have gone to the two-year and four-year open-access schools.”  The authors argue that changes in admissions criteria is one aspect that can help; minority students in segregated schools (74%) need access to better resources to prepare them for the academic rigor that elite institutions demand.

Excerpt from Seperate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege

The polarization begins with preparedness and access to higher education opportunities, provides fewer resources and opportunities, and translates to the perpetuation of generational deficits in education, employment, and subsequent earnings.


Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post writes: “Fifty years ago, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks, according to the Economic Policy Institute [EPI]. Today, it is 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks. Over the past 30 years, the average white family has gone from having five times as much wealth as the average black family to 6½ times, according to the Urban Institute.”

This month, the EPI is rolling out a serial report investigating the continued multi-faceted economic disparities among black Americans. The relationships of historical legacy, familial trends, poverty, education and employment are intertwined.  In its conclusion, Algernon Austin emphasizes the need to recommit to the unfinished goals laid out at the March on Washington. Further, NPQ’s Rick Cohen reminds us that civil rights are central the sector’s mission.

Tommy Pearce is Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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