The March for Jobs and Freedom—From 1963 to 2013
NPQ’s Economic Progress Quiz
The March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 had a very strong emphasis on jobs and economic equality.
As recounted by John Branston at the Memphis CityBeat, the marchers demanded “a massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers—Negro and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.” They also demanded a “a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2 an hour fails to do this.)” They demanded an extension of the Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment that were presently excluded, and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act that would bar discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.
How far have we come in the past fifty years? Take this brief quiz and see for yourself.
Part I: Unemployment
1) Was the unemployment rate in 1963 higher or lower than it is today?
- about the same
- they didn’t keep labor statistics then
ANSWER: a) lower
The unemployment rate for the workforce as a whole was actually lower in 1963 than it is today. In 1963, the official unemployment rate for the workforce as a whole was 5.7 percent. In July 2013, the official national unemployment rate was 7.4 percent.
2) In 1963, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and about 11 percent for blacks. How has the racial gap in unemployment changed since 1963?
- it was completely eliminated
- it was reduced by over 50 percent
- it was reduced by 25 percent
- it is about the same
ANSWER: d) it is about the same
As is recorded in “The Unfinished March: An Overview” by Algernon Austin for the Economic Policy Institute, “In 1963, the black unemployment rate was…2.2 times the white rate.” Black people were over twice as likely to be unemployed as white people. “The ratio of the black unemployment rate to the white unemployment rate has changed little in the intervening decades, ranging from about 2 times to 2.5 times the white rate. In 2012, the ratio was 2.1 (the white unemployment rate was 6.6 percent, compared with 14.0 percent for black unemployment).”
Even when the national unemployment rate has been low, the unemployment rate for African Americans has remained high. For example, in 2000, at the end of the Clinton years, though the national unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, and the non-Hispanic white unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, the unemployment rate of non-Hispanic blacks was still 7.6 percent.
In fact, the average annual unemployment rate closely tracks the 1963 disparity. The average annual unemployment rate for white people over the last 50 years since 1963 has been 5.1 percent. The average annual unemployment rate for blacks has been 11.5 percent. This consistently high rate for blacks is significantly worse than the most recent peak in the national unemployment rate of over 9.5 percent in 2009. The recession in 2009 was considered a serious unemployment crisis demanding the immediate attention of Congress and the President, leading to the enactment of an emergency stimulus package of $787 billion.
3) Who does the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently count as unemployed?
- unemployed people actively looking for work in the prior 4 weeks
- part-time workers who want a full-time job, but can’t find one
- unemployed people who want jobs, but are not actively looking
- all of the above
ANSWER: a) unemployed people actively looking for work in the prior 4 weeks
The official unemployment rate of 7.4 percent in July 2013 does not include those underemployed people who work part-time and who may want full-time jobs, or those who are not actively looking for work.
Because of the growth in the population, and more women working, the labor force has grown over time. Six million Americans were officially unemployed in 1963. Fifty years later, in July 2013, 11.5 million people were counted as being officially unemployed. So we have nearly twice as many people unemployed now as we did in 1963.
In July 2013, there were also 14.8 million other people who are considered to be among the “hidden unemployed.” 8.2 million people worked part-time because they couldn’t find a full-time job. Another 6.6 million people wanted jobs but were not actively looking, of which about 2.4 million had searched for work in the prior 12 months, and were available for work during the reference week.
Taken together, 26.3 million people, or 16.2 percent of the labor force need jobs. Currently, there are approximately seven job seekers for every available opening.
(For purposes of calculating the unemployment rate, the approximately 2.3 million Americans in prison are not counted, even though they will likely need jobs if and when they get out of jail.)
Part II: Minimum Wage
4) At the time of the 1963 march, what was the national minimum wage?
ANSWER: b) $1.15
5) What is the federal minimum wage in 2013?
ANSWER: b) $7.25
6) After adjusting for inflation, how much would the 1963 minimum wage of $1.15 an hour be worth in today’s dollars?
ANSWER: c) $8.37
After adjusting for inflation, R.J. Eskow computes that 1963’s minimum wage would be $8.37 in contemporary dollars—and that’s higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.
On July 24, 2009, the federal minimum wage was increased to its current level, $7.25 per hour. This was the final step of a three-step increase passed in 2007, when the minimum wage was only $5.15. In this last step, about 4.5 million workers received a raise, providing an additional $1.6 billion annually in increased wages. However, once adjusted for inflation, the new federal minimum was still less than the minimum wage through most of the period from 1961 to 1981.
7) At the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the marchers demanded an increase of the minimum wage to $2.00 an hour. If they had achieved this increase, how much would that $2.00 minimum wage be worth in today’s dollars?
ANSWER: d) $15.33
The march’s key civil rights demands were met in 1964 and 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But these economic demands were never met. Ross Eisenbrey of EPI tells us that “The minimum wage was raised to $1.25 in Sept. 1963, but it didn’t reach $2.00 an hour until 1974, by which time inflation had shrunk its value back to 1963 levels.”
At its highest point (in inflation-adjusted dollars) the minimum wage was worth $9.44 in 1968. It’s 23 percent lower now. And despite those who claim that a higher minimum wage leads to greater unemployment, the official unemployment figure in August of 1968 was 3.5 percent—less than half the current rate of 7.4 percent.
Sign up for our free newsletters
Subscribe to NPQ's newsletters to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
Dean Baker and Will Kimball, writing for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, demonstrate in their piece “The Minimum Wage and Economic Growth” that the minimum wage has fallen behind as worker productivity increased. Had it kept pace, the minimum wage in 2012 dollars would be $16.54 an hour.
In 2011, a full-time, year-round worker would need to earn $11.06 an hour to keep a family of four above the poverty line. More than a third of non-Hispanic black workers—36 percent—don’t earn wages that high.
22 million people fell below the poverty line in 1963, while 50 million fell below the poverty rate in 2012.
8) When was the minimum wage for tipped workers last increased?
ANSWER: b) 1991
The minimum wage for tipped workers has not been increased for 22 years. Experts estimate that about 14.5 percent of food service workers live in poverty, including 16.7 percent of waiters.
Part III: Income for Whites and Blacks
9) What percentage of the white median income did black households earn in 1968?
ANSWER: c) 60%
10) What percentage of white median income did black households earn in 2010?
ANSWER: b) 57%
In the period between 1968 and 1980, black median income relative to the median income of whites declined from 60 percent to about 57 percent. It reached 62 percent in the year 2000, as unemployment rates trended down, and it has since fallen back to about 57 percent of white median income. Latino families also have a median income of about 57 percent of white median income in 2010.
11) In 2009, the median White American had $98,000 in net worth, defined as assets (such as home equity, investments, retirement savings) minus debts. How much did the median Black American have in net worth?
ANSWER: d) $2,200
Part IV: The Fair Labor Standards Act
12) According to the FLDA, what is the current federal minimum wage for workers who receive tips?
ANSWER: a) $2.13
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires payment of at least the federal minimum wage to covered, nonexempt employees. However, an employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages, provided that amount plus any tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips, and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.
Some states have minimum wage laws specific to tipped employees. When an employee is subject to both the federal and state wage laws, the employee is entitled to the provisions which provides the greater benefits.
13) What types of workers are excluded from the overtime and minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act?
- home care workers
- executive, administrative, professional, and computer employees
- all of the above
ANSWER: d) all of the above
FLSA, originally enacted in 1938, guarantees most workers a minimum wage for each hour worked. FLSA also provides for overtime pay by requiring that most employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek be paid one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for each hour over forty hours per week. FLSA further requires employers to comply with recordkeeping requirements, including maintaining payroll records for employees.
Since its enactment, home care workers have been excluded from the overtime and minimum wage provisions of the FLSA. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, working with domestic workers’ advocates, proposed new regulations in 2012 that would undo this “companionship exemption” and apply federal minimum wage and overtime laws to caregivers.
Also, until 1966, the FLSA excluded farmworkers. FLSA now applies the minimum wage and recordkeeping provisions to most agricultural workers and employers. Agricultural workers who are paid on a piecework basis rather than an hourly basis are entitled to receive the minimum wage — their average earnings should be sufficient to yield an average hourly wage at least equivalent to the minimum wage. The overtime pay provisions of FLSA still do not apply to farmworkers, though. Further, the many agricultural workers employed on smaller farms—any farm that employs fewer than roughly seven workers in a calendar quarter—are not even protected by the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA.
The FSLA also does not apply to certain types of administrative, office and computer work, which may pose difficulties for certain types of workers who fall into these categories.
From the foregoing, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Black people in America live in a permanent, never-ending recession that is not taken seriously by political leaders and economic policymakers. Life is a permanent state of emergency for all American workers who are unemployed, underemployed and underpaid. Further, it seems that workers and communities will need to be highly organized and insistent to secure the modest, highly reasonable economic justice demands made by the civil rights marchers in 1963.
Several weeks before his death in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told a group of santiation workers in Memphis:
“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”
With increased spending on the war in Vietnam, less resources were made available for the War on Poverty and public job creation. Government action to create jobs and reduce poverty became a non-priority. Direct government creation programs, such as CETA, ended in 1982 after the election of President Reagan. Today, many conservatives and liberals alike believe that “government can’t create jobs.” Many seem to think the private sector will create all the jobs we need. But with 26 million Americans in search of work, it seems unlikely private market forces will close the gap anytime soon.
Given that our communities have so many unmet needs, it’s time to think about closing America’s other gaping deficits: the deficit of good living wage jobs, and the deficit of underinvestment in infrastructure and public services. If we were meeting America’s needs for roads, bridges, schools, water systems, clean energy, affordable housing, home care, child care and afterschool programs, all of us would be working—and then some.
Chuck Bell is Vice-Chair for the National Jobs for All Coalition, based in Lynbrook, New York. NJFAC is a national organization working to create a new national movement for full employment. NJFAC participated in the 50th Anniversary March for Jobs and Freedom on August 24. With the coalition’s support, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced HR 1000, the 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act, to provide a living wage job for everyone who wants one. For more info, visitwww.NJFAC.org. We are proud to say thatChuck Bell is also the chair of the NPQ board of directors.