Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Center for Labor Research and Education


Scroll to top


Beyond the Mountaintop: King’s Prescription for Poverty

  • Summary

    Beyond the Mountaintop: King’s Prescription for Poverty, by Steven Pitts of UC Berkeley and William Spriggs of Howard University, is a policy brief that analyzes African Americans’ economic progress over the last 40 years and uses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of economic justice as the basis for policy recommendations to dramatically reduce poverty.

  • Press Release


    Black Economists Present Policy Brief on How the Nation Can Reduce Joblessness

    Washington, DC — Two noted African American economists DR. KING’S PRESCRIPTION FOR POVERTY CAN WORK TODAY Black Economists Present Policy Brief on How the Nation Can Reduce Joblessness Washington, DC — Two noted African American economists will mark the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by releasing a policy brief, Beyond the Mountaintop: King’s Prescription for Poverty, challenging the nation to take up King’s vision of economic justice through an action plan of policies, practices and organizing.

    Dr. Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist with the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and Dr. William Spriggs, chair of the Howard University Department of Economics, are joined by 12 other prominent Black economists from across the country to call on the nation to dramatically reduce poverty. Their focus is on three priority areas—stronger anti-discrimination laws and enforcement; elimination of barriers to unionization; and an effective minimum wage—advocated by Dr. King to extend black advancement beyond the scope of safety net programs.

    Also participating in the news conference will be Taylor Rogers, 82, who was one of the organizers of AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis and served as the union’s president for 20 years. Dr. King joined Rogers and 1,300 other black striking Memphis sanitation workers 40 years ago in their struggle for dignity on the job, fair wages and better working conditions.

    In his last sermon on April 3, 1968, at a rally supporting the strike, Dr. King said that “I may not get there with you. But …we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Four decades later, however, his vision of a Promised Land where racial equality reigns and America’s economic bounty is shared by all has not been fulfilled.

    Dr. King’s prescription for ending poverty and unemployment is as relevant and urgent now as it was in 1968. By aggressively employing the three elements of King’s prescription to reduce poverty between 1964 and 1969, the United States achieved the largest decline in poverty since the Second World War, reducing the number of black children in poor families by almost half. But, in the intervening years, these three key policy levers had been virtually decimated.

    Today, millions of Americans are strapped by an economic downturn fueled by the housing market crisis and rising food and gas prices. Joblessness is increasing at an alarming rate. The burden of racism is matched by the strain of an economy that fails to produce enough good jobs with good wages for all workers seeking them, regardless of race. Worker productivity has risen while wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living. The policy brief shows that, adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage was actually higher in 1968 than it is today.

    An Action Agenda

    To change the status and condition of black workers requires an action agenda that blends combating racial discrimination with a strategy to overcome the impact of a lagging economy. The economists call for such an agenda that includes the following elements:

    A Full Employment Economy. The nation must put in place policies that will create a full-employment economy. Black workers fared best in the late 1960s and 1990s when the U.S. economy was operating at high capacity.

    Fight Discrimination. America must eliminate all forms of racial inequity including institutional discrimination that has the effect of denying workers of color access to employment and promotions.

    Protect the Right to Form Unions. For more than 70 years, workers rights to join unions and bargain collectively have won for them fair wages and decent working conditions. Wages and benefits would improve dramatically for low-wage service sector workers if they could unionize.

    Raise the Minimum Wage. Increasing the minimum wage to its 1969 value and indexing the wage so it keeps pace with productivity would not only lift up black workers trapped in poverty, it would elevate the wage floor for all workers.

    The policy brief, supported by the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, will be distributed to the Bush administration, members of Congress, African American civic, civil rights and service organizations as well as heads of Fortune 100 corporations.

    Representatives of the press interested in the report, the black economists’ statement and interviews with Drs. Pitts or Spriggs may contact Ajeenah Amir or Ron Simms at 202-833-9771.

  • Videos

  • Press Coverage

    Unions Can Help Us Get Over the Mountaintop Towards the Promised Land
    Huffington Post | April 4, 2008

    In pursuit of economic justice
    Philadelphia Inquirer | April 4, 2008

    Between Bootstraps and the Bullet, 40 Years Later, King’s Vision Still Misinterpreted
    New America Media | April 4, 2008

    Beyond the Mountaintop
    The American Prospect Blog | April 3, 2008

    Forty Years Later, Still Far From the Mountaintop
    Campaign for America’s Future Blog | April 2, 2008

    Assessing ‘King’s Prescription for Poverty’
    NPR’s News and Notes | March 31, 2008