Urban League: Progress Slows
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA, Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 4/4/2005
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite civil rights gains since the 1960s, socio-economic progress in Black America appears to be on a “blackslide,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said in remarks delivered Thursday to coincide with the annual release of the organization’s annual State of Black America report this week.
“We see that when it comes to the unemployment rate between Black America and White America, the gap grows wider. When it comes to the number of long-term unemployed African-Americans, the gap grows wider. And when it comes to African-American families building wealth and savings, the gap grows wider still. And as this gap grows wider and the road grows longer, we see that 40 years later we are in danger of erasing all the gains we have made thus far,” says Morial. “I’ve come to think of this danger as the Great Blackslide.”
The annual Black progress report, first issued in 1976 under then Executive Secretary Vernon Jordan, paints a grim picture:
“In 2005, America commemorates the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the height of the civil rights movement, and yet, this year’s State of Black America Report’s Equality Index reveals despite societal gains, the overall status of Blacks is just 73 percent of their White counterparts, marginally unchanged from the 2004 report,” the report said. “More significantly, the widest disparity for Blacks remain in economics, revealing an economic status for African-Americans of 57 percent compared to their White counterparts. Although slight improvements are noted, the equality gap is getting worse in unemployment, building wealth and savings reversing many of the employment and income gains made in the 1990’s. The median net worth for Blacks is 10 [times] less than it is for Whites.”
The State of Black America’s Equality Index, a statistical measurement comparing the conditions between Blacks and Whites in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement, states the following:
Economics: The biggest divide between Blacks and Whites is economic status, nearly 20 percent worse than any other category. In 2005, Black unemployment remains stagnant at 10.8 percent while White unemployment has decreased to 4.7 percent making Black unemployment more than 2.3 times more than Whites. More than 1 in 10 African-Americans are now unemployed. This is now more than twice the number of unemployed Whites. In cities like New York and Chicago, some estimates put the number of unemployed Black males at 50 percent.
The median net worth of an African-American family is $6,100 compared to $67,000 for a White family. Viewed another way, the average African-American family owns $60,900 less in wealth than the average White family.
Home Ownership: The homeownership rate for Blacks is nearly 50 percent versus more then 70 percent for Whites. African-American mortgage denial and home improvement loan rates have improved. But, African-Americans are still denied these types of loans twice more often than Whites.
Health: The health index shows slight declines compared to last year because of a faster increase in obesity rates for African- Americans than for Whites. On average, Blacks are twice as likely to die from disease, accident, behavior and homicide at every stage of life than Whites. Life expectancy is 72 years for Blacks and 78 years for Whites.
Education: Teachers with less than three years of experience are assigned to predominately Black and other racial minority schools at twice the rate that they are sent to White schools.
Social Justice: 2005 showed the equality gap between Whites and Blacks in the criminal justice system is worsening, going from 73 percent to 68 percent. Blacks are three times more likely to become prisoners once arrested and a Black person’s average jail sentence is six months longer than a White’s for the same crime - 39 months versus 33 months.
Civic Engagement: Volunteerism is declining for both Blacks and Whites most likely because of the problems associated with the 2004 elections.
“Forty years later, we can look around and take some comfort in the gains we have made since that day. A Black middle-class that has quadrupled, an African-American poverty rate that has been cut in half, and more African-American doctors, lawyers, business owners, and elected officials than ever before,” says Morial. “But when we look at where we are now, when we look at this year’s State of Black America report, we see that we still have a long, long way to go.”
Two years ago, the State of Black America predicted that with a third of Black families trapped near or below the poverty line, Black America would remain socially stagnant in the 21st century. Last year’s report said Blacks were less than three-quarters of the way toward reaching equality with Whites, as if Blacks are still counted as three-fifths of person that they were counted as two centuries ago. The report released this week says the equality index is the same as last year - three-quarters of the way to reaching equality with Whites.
Morial and 11 social scientists, whose essays are published as part of the report, say there are answers to the disparities.
In his “Prescriptions for Change” chapter, Morial suggests:
• Congress must extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act; some sections expires in 2007.
• There must be universal early childhood education with access to quality preschool education that is mandatory for every child beginning at age three.
• Over two years, raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour with future increases tied to an index.
• Close the homeownership gap by lowering down payment requirements and making mortgages available and affordable.
• Increase business development and access to free enterprise system.
• Urge bi-partisan Congressional effort to increase and expand funding for Community Development Block Grant programs
• Expand job training for urban males and develop a comprehensive re-entry program for ex-felons.
• African-Americans, especially the middle class should commit to “civic tithing” for Black institutions through financial support and volunteerism.
• African-Americans must renew focus on savings, investing and reducing consumer spending.
• Congress should be urged to support policies that increase access to affordable and preventable health care for African- American and other communities of color.
“It’s time for America to wake up,” says Morial. “The growing wealth gap in this country is not just leaving behind Black America, it’s leaving behind Middle-Class America and Urban America and Rural America and Hispanic America, too. When one community in America suffers, our entire economy suffers, too. And so, if W.E.B. DuBois once identified the color line as the great challenge of the 20th century, then the economic line between Blacks and whites, rich and poor, the haves, have-nots, and have mores is the great civil rights challenge of the 21st century.”