Dr. King’s economic message


Good afternoon,

Martin Luther King Day has a different look and feel in the era of Covid-19.

Days of service will be socially distant and even virtual. Continuing political turmoil and a visible undercurrent of racism lead many to believe that we have not come very far since King’s assassination in Memphis.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out in its  MLK Day editorial,  Dr. King’s still controversial message of economic equality is often overlooked in feel-good statements and TV footage of volunteer efforts.

The economic chasm in America highlighted in King’s speeches has further widened since the pandemic took hold in late March. 


A recent report from the  Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia mentioned in the Inquirer piece noted that recent employment growth in Delaware and the Delaware Valley took place in lower-paying categories.

Since  March, many essential jobs held by Blacks and Hispanics come with the added risk of contracting coronavirus. Other lower-paying jobs in areas such as hospitality evaporated.

The Philadelphia Fed put it this way: “…the modestly greater overall decline in the Third District states’ employment rate relative to the U.S. appears to have been driven by the magnitude of job losses among three groups of workers with no more than a high school diploma: Black men, Black women, and Hispanic women.”

Traveling alongside economic inequality is education. In  Delaware, that a school aid formula reinforces inequality with fixed per-pupil payments, an approach many states have discarded.

 As the gap between the haves and have nots widens, the system rewards richer and largely White districts while leaving others to struggle with a high percentage of at-risk students living in poverty.  More recently, charter schools have emerged and, on occasion, “skim the cream” of motivated students and parents.

Chancery Court has ruled that the current school finance formula and the property tax system does not pass Constitutional muster. It is now up to a reluctant  General Assembly to come up with a solution.

At the end of his life, King was an unpopular figure in much of the U.S., thanks in part to his opposition to the Vietnam War and calls for a guaranteed wage and a safety net to protect the most vulnerable.

In 2021, we may be closer to realizing that financial and educational opportunities, as well as embedded racism, must be addressed in Delaware.

King summed up the situation in the final line of his Vietnam speech.

“If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.