Black America "Treading Water" Urban League Report Shows

Black America "Treading Water" Urban League Report Shows

Published March 8, 2008

Posted March 5, 2008 – African Americans’ progress in closing the economic and social welfare gaps is at a virtual standstill, with no marked improvement since last year, according to the National Urban League’s new annual State of Black America report.

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“The numbers are not really changing… Blacks in effect are treading water, mainly because the sub-prime crisis has hit us disproportionately, the jobless recovery has hit us disproportionately,” Marc Morial, Urban League CEO/president told BET.com. “Jobs, housing educational achievement, access to health care show the widest disparity.”

The National Urban League, a 98-year-old Black empowerment organization, released the report in Washington, D.C., Wednesday with a bevy of public officials and national leaders on hand, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner, the Rev. Al Sharpton and economist Julianne Malveaux, who is now president of Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.

The organization also met with members of Congress, who agreed to sign its Opportunity Compact document, a part of the report that the Urban League developed with specific solutions to address the opportunity gap that exists between Blacks and Whites in America.
This year’s State of Black America report, which focuses on the issues of African-American women, hails women as “the backbone of the Black family” but suggests troubling times lie ahead, particularly in light of the sub-prime lending crisis.

In her essay about the home loan crisis, Andrea Harris, president of the North Carolina Institute for Minority Economic Development, suggests that Black women have suffered disproportionately. According to 2006 Home Mortgage Disclose Act data, African-American women received 51.4 percent of sub-prime loans.

Worse yet, upper-income Black women were five times as likely as White men to receive the high-risk loans, which are generally given to those with the worst credit histories. Sub-prime lenders are not the target of government officials and groups like the NAACP, which argue that unscrupulous mortgage banks have unfairly targeted people of color, who are more likely to have shaky credit, enticing them with relatively low-interest loans that tend to balloon to unaffordable rates after a year or so.

Sub-prime mortgages are being blamed for the nation’s astronomical foreclosure rates, particularly in Black and Latino communities.

 “Unfortunately, the sub-prime lending crisis has single-handedly turned the tide on vulnerable communities that previously had been making modest gains in homeownership,” Harris says.

But with several essays from prominent African-American women, The State of Black America 2008: In The Black Woman’s Voice celebrates the triumphant achievements of Black women – such as billionaire Oprah Winfrey in the entertainment arena, Condoleezza Rice in the global diplomatic spotlight, and Michelle Obama s as a potential first lady. But it also highlights the struggles Black women face in an often racist, sexist and misogynist society; such as the sub-prime mortgage mess that threatens the dreams of many Black women; the maligning of members of the Rutgers University Basketball Team by radio host Don Imus; and the kidnapping, torture and rape of a young Black woman by a group of Whites in West Virginia. (See and here more from celebrated Black women on  our Women's History Month 08 feature.)

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"Too often, our needs, concerns, struggles, and triumphs are diminished and subordinated to what is believed to be the more pressing concerns of others," longtime civil rights activist Dorothy Height writes in the foreword.  “It is Black women who face most strikingly a double disadvantage in the world of work.  Yet, despite Black women’s struggles, we remain key contributors to the economic well-being of our families and communities. About half of the growth in Black homeownership in recent years has occurred because of Black women.”

Julianne Malveaux points out in the report's opening essay that the image of Black women in popular culture has barely improved in the year since the Imus incident.

“There is bountiful anecdotal evidence that, while African-American women have been climbing the corporate ladder, images of Black women in popular culture are an ankle-weight that slows the climb,” says Malveau, who also points out that Black women hold more jobs nationwide than Black men, yet – despite their breadwinner roles – earn less on average: $566 a week, compared with $629 for Black men.

Former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, in one of the report’s several essays by notable Black women, described the state of Black women this way: “The plight of African-American women and their overall status in the workplace reminds me still of a tale of two cities. One city sits on the hill – bright and shimmering, reflecting the progress and the promise of tomorrow for women in our economy. The other city sits in the valley, little changed from the reality of our youth, characterized by low pay and limited opportunities.”

The report delves deeper into economics, noting that Black women are more likely than White or Hispanic women to be running a household and raising children on their own.
Beyond those numbers, the report highlights the trend that Black economic development as a whole is “treading water,” as Morial puts it.

“Forty years after the historic Civil Right Act was signed, while we’ve made progress I some areas, when it comes to economics, the huge gaps that exist between Whites and Africans remain,” Morial says. “Overall, the numbers are not really changing.  The conditions of African Americans have not changed. Black Americans are treading water.”

The report uses what it calls the Equality Index, a weighted average of indexes calculated for each of the five sub-categories – economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement – to determine how well African Americans are doing.

The 2008 Equality Index is 73 percent (which means that Blacks are doing 73 percent as well in the areas mentioned as Whites), which is up 0.41 percent from the revised 2007 Index.

The numbers also show:

  • The rate of unemployment for Black youth age 16-19 is 69 percent compared to 55 percent for Whites.
  • The number of adult internet users with broadband access increased from 61 percent to 82 percent this year.
  • The gap in average jail sentencing narrowed by 15 percentage points (from 77 percent to 93 percent) as the average sentence for Blacks decreased from 44 months to 40 months.
  • Nearly three times as many Blacks as Whites are living in extreme poverty.

On a positive note, the gap in average jail sentencing narrowed by 15 percentage points (from 77 percent to 93 percent) as the average sentence for Blacks decreased from 44 months to 40 months.

“The problems of Black America reflect the problems of America,” Morial says. “The solutions that affect Black America are solutions that would benefit all Americans.”

To improve the state of Black Americans, the report recommends: mandatory universal early childhood education; an expansion of job-training programs for high school dropouts and other youths who don’t attend college; and a national anti-predatory lending law to prevent the sub-prime lending crisis from happening again.

“The presidential candidates have to have urban agendas, agendas to close the economic gap,” Morial says. “We believe we’ve supplied a blueprint that they can very easily adopt.”

Want to read the report for yourself? Go here.

Want more on the Compact For America, visit here.

Written by BET-Staff

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