The National Urban League released its “State of Black America,” report yesterday at a news conference led by CEO Marc Morial at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The annual report is the League’s statement on public policy priorities for the African-American community. The 2009 edition of the volume is titled “The State of Black America: Message to the President” and contains policy recommendations for the Obama administration.
In the forward to the report, Martin Luther King, III, son of the civil rights icon, writes, “I hope that The State of Black America 2009: Message to the President will find its way to the desks of decision makers from the White House to both houses of Congress to every state house and to local governments throughout the nation. I also hope that it will lead to a national dialogue that spawns an agenda with support from the private sector and its civic counterpart. With this hope we can hasten the realization of my father’s dream so that the narratives of all Americans can be one.”
The National Urban League’s Equality Index, a measure of the relative equality of African Americans in the United States, stands at 71.1 percent compared to 71.5 percent in 2008. Economics remains the greatest area of inequality at 57.4 percent, followed by social justice at 60.4 percent, health at 74.4 percent, education at 78.5 percent and civic engagement at 96.3 percent. In the area of social justice a decline in prisoners as a percentage of arrests for African Americans contributed to a 3 percentage point increase in the index for this variable.
The report, as always, includes essays from some of the nation’s leading Black scholars, elected officials and business representatives. In the area of education, the chapter includes essays by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who is the sponsor of the “Student Bill of Rights,” and touches upon the academic achievement gap. Dr. John H. Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, examines how several court cases after the famous Brown decision stagnated equal opportunity in America. Jackson calls for an expanded role for the federal government in public education. The lead essay in the chapter is from Dr. Hal Smith, the Urban League’s vice president of Education and Youth Development. Jackson looks at the dropout crisis in urban communities and explores expanded developmental opportunities and strengthening education partnerships.
The section on health care features an essay “Improving African Americans’ Access to Healthcare,’ by Dr. Darrell Gaskin, associate professor of health economics at the University of Maryland. Gaskin points out that to eliminate inequality in the healthcare system, racial disparities in health insurance coverage, income and sources of care must be addressed. He also calls for raising Medicaid reimbursement rates and making health care more accessible to underserved Black communities. Eboni Morris, an Urban League health policy fellow, and Lisa Band Malone, vice president at the National Urban League Policy Institute, examines how the urban environment and conditions within can adversely affect the health of its residents.
Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, a leading Democrat on the Hill, penned an essay titled “Infrastructure and Job Creation – A Priority for Urban America,” that explores how investment in infrastructure and modernizing the nation’s electrical grid can revitalize urban communities and the nation in general. Economist Dr. William Rogers III explains how reducing Black male unemployment during the current recession is beneficial to the nation’s economy in “Why Reduce African-American Male Unemployment.” The chair of Howard University’s Department of Economic, Dr. William Spriggs, looks back at Reaganomics in “Nothing Trickles Down: How Reaganomics Failed America” and details how Mr. Reagan’s policies were damaging to Black Americans. Dr. J. Phillip Thompson, associate professor of Urban Politics at MIT, explains how going “green” provides an environmental benefit as well as an opportunity for job growth in urban communities in ‘The Coming Green Economy.”
The report also explores home ownership with an article titled “What Must Be Done? The Case for More Homeownership and Financial Education Counseling,” by Cy Richardson, the League’s vice president for housing and community development. Richardson explains how home ownership counseling is essential to resolving the current home foreclosure crisis. Stephanie Jones, executive director of the National Urban Public Policy Institute and editor of The State of Black America, explores the myth that minorities and/or low-income borrowers are to blame for the nation’s subprime crisis in “The Subprime Meltdown: Disarming the “Weapons of Mass Deception.” A business perspective on economic prosperity is provided by Earl Graves, Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise magazine, in ‘Wealth for Life,” as he details the magazine’s “Black Wealth Initiative.”
The president & CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City, Gwendolyn Grant, challenges Blacks to not allow the euphoria over the election of Barack Obama lead to complacency on issues concerning civil rights. Her Op-Ed “The Fullness of Time for a More Perfect Union,” calls for a new civil rights movement built upon three key elements: idealistic pragmatism, participatory interdependence, and personal responsibility.
The “State of Black America 2009: Message to the President” includes an easy from the National Urban League Policy Institute that details recent trends in urban unemployment and sets forth six proposals for providing much needed employment growth and job training in urban areas. The essay follows a series of policy recommendations the National Urban League made to Congress and President-elect Obama in December 2008.
The volume also includes a perspective on the historic role of the Congressional Black Caucus from the chair of the group, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). In “The Congressional Black Caucus and President Barack Obama: Speaking With One Voice to Fill the Moral Gaps in Our World,” Lee declares the Caucus’ intent to provide moral leadership in education, health care, jobs and housing; critical issues facing the Black community.
The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations in a number of the critical areas that the document covers. In education, the National Urban League is recommending, among other things, that a private right of action is established that gives parents and other concerned parties the ability to hold school districts, states, and the U.S. Department of Education accountable for implementing the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In the area of health care, the report includes a recommendation to develop a comprehensive health infrastructure for the delivery of health education, prevention and intervention initiatives for African Americans. Touching upon the difficulty Blacks have accessing jobs in the construction trades, there is a recommendation to target workforce investment dollars to the construction industry for jobs tied to infrastructure projects; a recognition of the billions of dollars the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, so-called federal “stimulus” legislation, will invest in the nation’s transportation and public works infrastructure. The National Urban League is also calling for a “Homebuyers Bill of Rights” and for the government to strengthen and enforce federal minority business opportunity goals in government contracting.
The report can be obtained online on the National Urban League’s website, www.nul.org.