“From your founding amid the great migration, to the struggles of the civil rights movement, to the battles of today…America is a better place because of the Urban League.” President Barack Obama
As depression-era unemployment rates and a shrinking social safety net continue to plague urban America, the annual National Urban League census reveals that the organization’s 98 community-based affiliates served a record 2.6 million Americans in 2010 – a 25 percent increase over 2009.
Last year the American economy was supposedly transitioning from the great recession to sustained recovery. Instead, 14 million Americans remained jobless, 8 million more were underemployed and unemployment among African Americans reached 16 percent -- nearly double the national rate. While more urban families faced job losses, smaller pay checks, diminished health services and the threat of foreclosure, many Urban League affiliates filled the gap as lifelines of opportunity. Following is a summary of affiliate activities targeted to our four empowerment goals:
Health Care: Every American has access to quality and affordable health care solutions
The great recession has caused some families to choose food over health care, thereby exposing children and adults to the potential of seriously escalating illnesses.
With 31 states cutting funds for health care services and providers, Urban League affiliates managed to help more 1.4 million Americans purchase medicines, get necessary evaluations and screenings and obtain other critical health care services -- up from 792,000 in 2009.
Education: Every American child is ready for college, work and life
Education is always cited as the cornerstone of America’s future. But last year, 34 states sought to balance their budgets by enacting cuts in K-12 programs. This resulted in fewer participants receiving education services from our affiliates in 2010. However, 172,000 clients still benefited from Urban League affiliate education services, with 50,000 receiving professional development and skills enhancement training.
Economic Empowerment: Every American has access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits
Since 2009, unemployment among African Americans has increased from 14 percent to 16 percent. Last year, the affiliates of the Urban League placed more than 18,000 people in jobs through the operation of 548 economic, entrepreneurship and housing programs. Those programs served an astounding 608,852 clients -- an increase of 232,000 from 2009.
Housing: Every American lives in safe, decent, affordable and energy efficient housing on fair terms
Urban League affiliates provided housing assistance to 441,493 clients in 2010, more than double the clients receiving assistance in 2009. This included 1,188 homes purchased, and 15,524 clients benefiting from foreclosure assistance.
Finally, in 2010, the National Urban League generated an economic impact of $1 billion, including $471.8 million in federal, state and local government support for Urban League programs across the country. The secondary economic impact of $641.6 million is a measure of the success of these efforts, with 18,000 participants placed in jobs, 1,188 new homeowners, 357 new business start-ups, $3.3 million in business sales and $114 million in new investments in economically distressed communities.
Clearly, the National Urban League and its affiliates are helping millions of Americans navigate their way through these economic hard times. The services we provide help strengthen family budgets and communities. And, just as importantly, they allow people to maintain their dignity and a sense of humanity.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.