As important as it is for Black empowerment in America, President Barack Obama’s first year in the White House led to no appreciable impact on the lives of many African-Americans, the National Urban League says in its latest assessment of the economic and social state of the country’s Black community. Inequality between Blacks and whites remains a nagging problem and the country is far from being a postracial nation, according to the League’s 2010 Equality Index, which was released on March 25 as part of the 34th edition of The State of Black America. Blacks are still “undereducated, unemployed and underpaid,” leaving many of them poor and unhealthy, it says.
The annual report calls for these problems to be confronted head-on through targeted job-creation programs and expansion of small-business loan programs. Besides perfunctory remarks in an essay by Education Secretary Arne Duncan about education being the civil rights issue of this generation, the report offers no meaningful solution to the widening education and achievement gap between the races. With the nation still reeling from massive unemployment bequeathed by the Great Recession (December 2007 through June 2009), the report’s main focus is jobs. Overall, the country lost eight million jobs during the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s and that was on top of the two to four million jobs never recovered after the previous recession in 2001. The last 10 years have been referred to as the “lost decade” and labor economists are beginning to see a striking similarity between that decade and the current one: a jobless recovery. “Based on data for 2008 and 2009, the statistics on unemployment, earnings, poverty and homeownership in this year’s economic index capture some of the effects of the Great Recession,” says the Urban League report.
The League’s data show a serious job crisis throughout the country, but more especially in Black America. The recession pushed up the unemployment rate among Blacks by 4.7 percent to 14.8 percent, compared to white unemployment, which rose 3.3 percent to 8.5 percent last year. Among Hispanics the rate was 12.1 percent.
Because of the job disparity, the median Black household income fell 3 percent to $34,218 last year, compared to $55,530 for whites and $37,913 for Hispanics. These disparities are reflected in homeownership, poverty and health-insurance rates. Less than half of Black and Hispanic families own a home — 47.4 percent and 49.1 percent, respectively — compared to 75 percent for whites. Blacks and Hispanics are also more than three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty line. And since wealth and poverty are often passed on intergenerationally, the already huge impact of the ongoing home foreclosure crisis will persist for years and probably widen the racial gap, the report says.
The employment-based health-care system made the situation worse, it says, although the bill that President Obama signed into law in March promises improvement in the long term by expanding health insurance to 32 more million Americans mainly through government subsidies to low- to medium-income families, beginning 2014. In the meantime, African-Americans, most of whom will benefit from the health-care reform, continue to struggle with health problems without much government help. Currently, 19.1 percent of Blacks have no health insurance, compared to 10.8 percent of whites and 30.7 percent of Hispanics. As a result, their health problems go undetected for years, which partly accounts for the disproportionate occurrence of certain diseases in the Black and Hispanic communities.
Harkening back to government job-creation programs that lowered unemployment in 1935 and 1974, respectively, the report proposes a six-point plan calling for a direct government investment of $150 billion over two years to create three million jobs; expansion of small-business loan programs; youth summer jobs programs; and the creation of Green empowerment zones and urban jobs academies.