Thursday would have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 80th birthday, coming only a few days before the election of the nation's first black president. Indeed, the events of this past year are a testament to how far we've come in terms of racial relations in the United States. But while racial barriers did not prevent an African-American from becoming President, they continue to impede many people of color from achieving economic equality with their white counterparts.

The vision of economic equality is one that King stood strongly behind into his last days. Yet continued racial economic inequality, made worse by the current economic downturn, shows that as a nation we are still far from King's dream.

A new report released Thursday by United for a Fair Economy, a Boston-based advocacy group, details the continued high levels of current racial economic inequity. "State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression" explains how people of color in the United States are experiencing a silent economic depression.

"It's silent because it's going unnoticed, unacknowledged and unaddressed -- and yet the evidence is striking," the report reads.

The report underscores that while the rest of the country worries about sliding from recession into depression, much of black America is already there, experiencing a silent economic depression that, in terms of unemployment, equals or exceeds the Great Depression of 1929. In fact people of color have been in recession for five years, in essence creating a racialized economic depression.

And the racial wealth gap is only growing.

"The current economic crisis requires more than a color-blind stimulus. It demands a complete economic restructuring that addresses the racial wealth divide," said Dedrick Muhammad, senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies, a co-author of the report.

Some key findings:
 
  • Although the National Bureau of Economic Research did not announce until Dec. 1, 2008 that the U.S. has been in a recession, it has been apparent to many that this country has been in a growing recession for more than a year. People of color have been in a recession for nearly five years and have entered a depression during the current economic crisis.
  • Almost 12% of Blacks are unemployed; this is expected to increase to nearly 20% by 2010. Among young Black males aged 16-19, the unemployment rate is 32.8%, while their white counterparts are at 18.3%. Overall, 24% of Blacks and 21% of Latinos are in poverty, versus 8% of whites.
  • The median household incomes of Blacks and Latinos are $38,269 and $40,000, respectively, while the median household income of whites is $61,280.
  • People of color are disproportionately poor in the United States. Blacks and Latinos have poverty rates of 24% and 21% respectively, compared to a 10% poverty rate for whites.
  • People of color are more likely to be poor (24.5%), remain poor (54%), and move back into poverty from any income class status than their white counterparts.