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How much has changed since the 1963 March on Washington?

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington, D.C., (Washington Monument in background) during the 'March on Washington.'

How far have we come in 50 years in terms of economic equality? It depends on how you look at the numbers. Fewer than half of Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality. But the overwhelming majority of whites, blacks and Hispanics believe their racial groups get along. Wealth and income gaps between whites and minorities remain extremely high. And the unemployment rate among African Americans is about double that of whites -- same as it was in 1972, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Black households in 2011 earned 59 percent of what white households earned -- up slightly from 55 percent in 1967, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. But in actual dollars, the income gap has grown. In the late ‘60s, white households earned about $19,000 more than black households -- today, white households earn $27,000 more. (*Note: numbers are for the median, and adjusted to 2012 dollars).

The median wealth gap between white and black households has also increased from about $75,000 in 1984 to $85,000 in 2011, according to Pew.

The Urban Institute breaks the numbers down differently. They looked at the average wealth gap between white and black families in 2010 and found white families have six times the wealth of black families ($632,000 compared to $98,000).

The Census Bureau also took a snapshot comparing then to now. In 1966, nearly 42 percent of blacks lived in poverty (compared to a national average of about 15 percent). Fast forward to 2011, about 28 percent of blacks live in poverty (the national average remained the same).

There have been gains in education. As of 1964, just 4 percent of African Americans had completed at least 4 years of college, compared to 21 percent in 2012. And the number of black students in college as of 2011 was more than ten times what it was in 1964.

While the data show gaps have grown in some areas, shrunk in others, the overall perception of black economic equality is still pretty bleak. According to Pew, more than half of African Americans said blacks are treated less fairly on the job than whites (compared to 16 percent of whites). The majority of Africans Americans also feel they’re treated less fairly in the courts, when dealing with police and in local public schools.

About the author

Caitlin Esch is an Associate Producer on the Wealth & Poverty desk.

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