WASHINGTON – Landmark health legislation won't be enough to reduce racial gaps in unemployment and health care, the National Urban League says in urging President Barack Obama to promote a "jobs surge" that targets hard-hit communities.
In its annual "State of Black America" report being released Wednesday, the 100-year-old organization said African Americans had made gains in overall equality with whites as measured partly by their high voter turnout in 2008. Still, blacks lagged in homeownership rates and were almost twice as likely to be unemployed and lack health insurance.
The 151-page study, which in 2007 featured a foreword by then-Sen. Obama bemoaning the problems facing black men, makes clear that it appreciates his efforts so far as president but that "much, much more must be done."
Seeking to broaden its appeal, the report for the first time also addresses inequality for Hispanics, the nation's fastest growing demographic group. It noted that Latinos faced many problems similar to blacks and in some areas may lag further behind, such as voter participation, insurance coverage and college enrollment.
"Now it's time for a strong jobs bill," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
"I think the health bill is a very important landmark piece of legislation that in the long term will also create jobs. But that's not immediate," Morial told The Associated Press. "In the short run, we may be looking at continuing high unemployment. It's just not acceptable when Congress and the president spent a considerable amount of money bailing out the banks and auto companies."
The report includes policy discussions and essays from academics, business leaders and members of the Obama administration such as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Among its recommendations:
_Provide $150 billion for direct job creation in local communities by offering grants to cities, states, universities and nonprofit groups. Eligibility will be based on local unemployment rates with a goal of creating 3 million jobs.
_Adopt the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, hire housing counselors nationwide and strengthen enforcement of fair lending laws to crack down on predatory lending, since blacks and other minorities were disproportionately hurt by the foreclosure crisis.
_Spend $5 billion to $7 billion to hire up to 5 million teens as part of an expanded Youth Summer Jobs Program that would improve opportunities for urban youth, who have higher rates of unemployment.
_Create an "alternative public option" that would eliminate racial disparities in health coverage caused by an employer-based system. A new federal agency would guarantee a job for every person seeking work to improve public works projects, and provide the workers health benefits already available to federal employees.
Morial said more aid is needed beyond the $38 billion jobs bill signed into law by Obama, partly because it does little to help the "chronically unemployed," who have less education and jobs skills and are disproportionately black and Latino. That jobs measure, which contains a modest mix of tax breaks and spending for highway and transit programs, is expected to generate perhaps 250,000 jobs by year's end, a tiny portion of the 8.4 million jobs the economy has shed since the recession began in 2007.
Referring to health care legislation, Morial noted that nearly 20 percent of blacks do not have health coverage, compared to about 11 percent for whites, and that disparities in health care extend beyond insurance to "access to fresh food and groceries, access to physical education, recreational activities and sidewalks to walk on."
"The health bill is not a magic wand," he said.
The "State of Black America" report comes after Morial and other African American leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, met with Obama at the White House last month to press for aid in urban and rural areas with large numbers of hurting minorities.
Obama, the nation's first black president, has said he cannot adopt employment strategies that are designed to solely help blacks. He supports targeting help to regions most in need, which in turn, he says, would lift the African-American community.
Morial said that during the White House meeting, Obama expressed an "overall understanding that additional significant steps needed to be taken."
"I do believe he will pay attention," he said.
The unemployment rate was 15.8 percent for blacks and 12.4 percent for Hispanics in February, compared to 9.7 percent overall and 8.8 percent for whites.
On the Net:
National Urban League: http://www.nul.org/