Dallas, TX – "As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars." So said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Midday.
It's been 35 years since Dr. King lay dying on a Memphis motel balcony, and yet much of what he worked for in his later years is still prevalent today. We mostly remember King from the early-and mid-60s, presenting to the world discrimination of the ugliest sort. He fought non-violently for the civil rights of African-Americans. But for King, his work was not finished after the passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and '65. As syndicated columnists and authors Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon point out, "He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without 'human rights' - including economic rights."
Based on the latest statistics released by the Census Bureau last September, in 2001 the numbers living below the poverty level suddenly increased. It was the first time in 10 years. There are now 33 million living in poverty. That is 1.3 million more than in 2000. The official poverty line for a family of four is $18,100 a year. So the poverty rate is now 11.7%. The recorded low was set in 1973 at 11.1%. For African-Americans, the average income showed the first significant decline in two decades. The white average also fell. Only Hispanics maintained their income level.
Minimum wage has not seen an increase since 1997. It stands at $5.15. There is a proposal to raise it by $1.50 over the next three years. Tax cuts don't mean a whole lot to the lowest income workers.
Martin Luther King said, "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
For KERA Marketplace Midday, I'm Maxine Shapiro.
Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m. Email Maxine Shapiro.