By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, nearly half of those who responded to a new poll said a lot more needs to be done before people in the United States would "be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found that 49 percent of those polled think "a lot more" needs to be done to achieve the color-blind society King envisioned in his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. But 73 percent of black respondents and 81 percent of whites thought the two races get along "very well" or "pretty well."
The telephone poll of 2,231 adults, including 376 black Americans and 218 people of Hispanic descent, was conducted between August 1 through 11.
A quarter of the black Americans polled said the lives of blacks were better now than they were five years ago, when the United States elected its first black president, Barack Obama. In 2009, after Obama's election, 39 percent of black Americans expressed the same opinion.
"It's clear now that the rosy glow that followed that historic election has faded among both blacks and whites," said Pew Research Center senior editor Rich Morin. "We don't know for sure but it's reasonable to suggest that among the biggest reasons would be the Great Recession, which hit all Americans hard, but particularly blacks."
King's speech was the centerpiece of a march on Washington that drew some 250,000 people to the National Mall. [ID:nL6N0GN1S6]. In it, the famed orator described the lives of black Americans, telling the nation, "The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity."
The Pew poll found the economic gulf between whites and blacks is roughly the same as it was half a century ago.
The gaps between blacks and whites in the areas of household income and household wealth have widened, but the poll found that on measures such as high school completion and life expectancy, they have narrowed.
The poll found that on other measures, including poverty and homeownership rates, the gaps are roughly the same as they were 40 years ago.
Pew said that between 1967 and 2011 the median income of a black household of three rose from about $24,000 to nearly $40,000. Expressed as a share of white income, black households earn about 59 percent of what white households earn, a small increase from 55 percent in 1967 (1967 and 2011 media household income figures expressed in 2012 dollars).
When expressed as dollars, the black-white income gap widened, from about $19,000 in the late 1960s to roughly $27,000 today. Pew said the race gap on household wealth has increased from $75,224 in 1984 to $84,960 in 2011.
Pew said other indicators of financial well-being have changed little in recent decades, including homeownership rates and the share of each race that live above the poverty line. The black unemployment rate has consistently been about double that of whites since the 1950s, according to Pew.
When it came to criminal justice, Pew said that significant minorities of whites agree that blacks receive unequal treatment when dealing with the criminal justice system.
Pew said seven-in-ten blacks and about a third of whites said blacks are treated less fairly in their dealings with the police. And about two-thirds of black respondents and quarter of whites said blacks are not treated as fairly as whites in the courts.
Thirty-five percent of blacks polled said they had been discriminated against or treated unfairly because of their race in the past year, compared with 20 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of whites, Pew said.
(Reporting By Chris Francescani; Editing by Scott Malone, Toni Reinhold)