Employment Gap Remains, 50 Years After March on Washington

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

August 28, 2013

Exactly fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Yet, a half century later, the country still has a stark employment gap among the races.

In July, the unemployment rate for whites in America was 6.6 percent. For blacks, it was 12.6 percent.

"Sometimes they deny you because of your race," said Latasha Shifflett, an unemployed woman who lives in Charlottesville's Westhaven neighborhood.

She lost her job eight months ago, when her baby arrived three months premature. She says she now faces discrimination trying to get another job.

"I could see a lot of white people going in and they'll do the same thing," Shifflett said. "And sometimes they're worse than me, but they get the job before I get the job."

Carl Brown is starting a non-profit called BE REAL, Inc., that is focused on fixing the problem of black unemployment.

"One door closes, another door opens," Brown said. "You've got to be persistent, determined, and intelligent about how to approach it."

Brown says black Americans fall behind because many of their families cannot afford to send them to college.

"The discouragement of not being able to go to college and not being able to find a job kind of puts a damper on the kind of life that a person wants to live," Brown said. "It kind of kills that dream."

And Brown agrees with Shifflett that some employers are biased.

"Blacks are overlooked for positions because there is a certain perception that they are unqualified," Brown said.

But both of them are hopeful that King's mission of getting equal employment opportunities will be realized.

"We've gotten better," Brown said.

"We all should just come together," Shifflett said. "And let everything go."

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