Fifty years ago today, when more than 200,000 protesters took to Washington to demand racial equality, they came with specific policy ideas too, many of them economically-focused. Here they are, via Igor Volsky of Think Progress:
So today, how close has the nation come to meeting the protesters demands? And where have has the U.S. fallen short? Let’s go through the ideas point by point:
1. Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.
Reality: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees these things, but some provisions have recently been weakened, critics say. Legislation passed in the mid to late 1960s guarantees equal access to all the things mentioned above. However, in June, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that spells out which areas of the country need to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government.
The dissenting judges and other critics argue that getting rid of that provision will make the law less effective at preventing discrimination in voting.
2. Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
Reality: It’s illegal for federally-funded organizations to discriminate, but some critics argue it’s still happening at charities that get federal dollars.The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.” Still, some say that President Obama has not gone far enough in preventing religious discrimination at faith-based groups that receive federal dollars.
3. Desegregation of all schools in 1963.
Reality: Laws and court rulings have aimed to integrate schools, but in many ways the system is still segregated. A variety of court rulings and lawsallowing for busing, magnet school programs and ot
her tools have aimed to integrate America’s school systems. Despite the efforts, many school districts remain largely segregated, according to Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “On schools, we sort of struck out altogether,” she told the Kansas City Star.
4. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment — reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised.
Reality: The Voting Rights Act addresses this, but critics say recent Supreme Court rulings have made its enforcement weaker. The 1965 Voting Rights Act aims to address these concerns, but as mentioned above, many critics say a recent Supreme Court ruling weakened its enforcement by allowing some states to pursue voter ID laws that will disproportionately affect minorities’ access to the polls.
5. A new executive order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
Reality: In large part, this goal has been met. Various fair housing laws prevent discrimination in public housing and housing receiving federal funding based on race, sex, disability status and other factors. In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued regulations prohibiting discrimination in public housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Still, there’s no national law banning discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
6. Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
Reality: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows for temporary or permanent injunctions when a person or business discriminates based on race, religion or national origin.
7. A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers — Negro and white — on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
Reality: It’s still hard for many Americans to get a job earning a decent wage. Though programs like President Obama’s 2009 stimulus aimed to provide jobs to some unemployed workers, the jobless rate still remains at 7.4 percent. In addition,most of the jobs created this
year were part-time and the jobs created during therecovery have been largely low-wage.
8. A national minimum wage act that will give Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2 an hour fails to do this).
Reality: The current value of the minimum wage is still far below the protesters’ demands. A $2 minimum wage in 1963 is the equivalent of a $13.39 minimum wage today, according to a recent paper from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. In his state of the union address earlier this year, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage, though his suggestion to raise it from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour was far less than the March on Washington proposal.
9. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
Reality: The Fair Labor Standards Act ensures most workers are protected, but certain occupations are exempt. The Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees a minimum wage of $7.25 for workers or a $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers, overtime pay for those who work more than 40 hours a week and prohibits child labor and other practices. Still, there are many categories of workers that are exempt, such as farm workers, seasonal employees and certain types of commissioned sales employees, according to the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for many of America’s labor unions.
10. A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state and municipal governments and by employers, contractors, employment agencies and trade unions.
Reality: There are many laws that prohibit discrimination in hiring, but it still persists on the ground. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in hiring based on race, national origin and sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing this provision, and it has also determined that many discrimination claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity can often be counted as a sex discrimination claim.
But despite local and national laws prohibiting discrimination in hiring and many companies’ commitment to diversity, research has shown that black applicants are often discriminated against in their job search.