Inauguration: a giant leap for blacks?

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Crowds gathered along the Reflection Pool on the National Mall waiting for an inaugural celebration Sunday.

Martin Luther King Jr. got it right when he dreamed of a day when people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Better than two-thirds of African-Americans say Dr. King's vision of race relations has been fulfilled, according to a new CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll. That majority – 69 percent – was double the percentage of blacks who agreed with that statement last March (and was higher, incidentally, than the 46 percent of whites surveyed in the new poll).

Much of that optimism springs from Tuesday's inauguration of America's first black president.

But how far, really, have African-Americans come economically? It's a mixed picture.

Progress is apparent

The black middle class is more visible. More than a quarter of black workers are in management, professional, or related occupations. The Census Bureau counts 49,730 black physicians and surgeons, 70,620 postsecondary teachers, 49,050 lawyers, and 57,720 chief executives.

Nearly 38 percent of black 18- and 19-year-olds were enrolled in college in 2006, up from 18.1 percent in 1967.

The percentage of black families in poverty has fallen from 33.9 percent in 1967 to 22 percent in 2007.

Big gaps remain

But black households earn less than other races or Hispanics. Median income was $33,916 in 2007, less than what Hispanic households earned ($38,679) and more than a third below the $54,920 that non-Hispanic white households took home. As individuals, blacks make up 12.6 percent of the population but 27.0 percent of the people whose incomes are less than half poverty pay.

So has the United States paid back, as King put it in his "I have a Dream" speech, its "promissory note" that "black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness' "?

Not yet, although an Obama presidency represents a big symbolic step.

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