The National Urban League sets out to answer that question each year, and the 2013 State of Black America report paints a complicated picture of both achievement in the community and ongoing racial disparities.
Entitled "State of Black America-Redeem The Dream: Jobs Rebuild America," the report features significant progress in education and employment, but simultaneously outlines gaps in income and job attainment.
Some of the areas of improvement include:
The high school completion gap has closed by 57 percentage points.
There are more than triple the number of Blacks enrolled in college.
For every college graduate in 1963, there are now five.
Standard of Living:
The percentage of Blacks living in poverty has declined by 23 points.
The percentage of Black children living in poverty has fallen by 22 points.
The percentage of Blacks who own their home has increased by 14 points.
However, these steps forward stand in stark contrast to the ongoing lack of progress in closing the racial gap in major areas including:
In the past 50 years, the Black-White income gap has only closed by 7 points (now at 60%).
The unemployment rate gap has only closed by 6 points (now at 52%).
As in 1963, the Black/white unemployment ratio is still about 2-to-1--regardless of education, gender, region of the country, or income level.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February only 6.8 percent of white workers remained unemployed compared to 13.8 percent of black workers and 9.6 percent of Hispanics. And while some are holding President Obama responsible for that disparity, others are pointing to other possible reasons for the gap.
National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said that a continuing push to reduce unemployment and increase education attainment levels will spur economic growth and help ease some of the nation's fiscal challenges.
Identifying the key to increasing black graduation rates is an ongoing goal for many researchers, with educators across the country taking steps to close the black-white achievement gap.
Morial said that with Washington's present budget debate, a continuing effort must be made to address the issues that contribute to racial disparity in the country. "As the budget debate continues in Washington on whether to cut critical program funding, the State of Black America 2013 highlights a harsh reality: budget-cutting fever will cause economic pneumonia," he said in a press release. "If we are to move toward lasting economic recovery and full equality and empowerment, we must apply sustainable solutions -- keenly focusing on jobs for all Americans and closing the gaps that result in a 'tale of two Americas.'"