WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Despite 40 years of steady progress for the Black middle class in the U.S., persistent and stark inequality remains a reality for most Blacks, even those whose conditions have improved dramatically. For many other Blacks, living conditions remain dismal and their prospects for the future are bleak.
In 2004, a pinnacle year in the Civil Rights Movement with the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court desegregation decision and the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it is the “Complexity of Black Progress” which describes this year’s “State of Black America,” the annual report released March 24 by the National Urban League (NUL).
“While we have gained much ground in the past 40 years since the historic civil rights era, the ground on which we stand today is precarious and shaky,” Marc Morial, NUL president, told reporters at the National Press Club.
“There’s good news and there’s bad news. While we celebrate Oprah and (BET founder) Bob Johnson, the economic index is 56 percent that of Whites,” said Mr. Morial. The economic index is a new statistical measure compiled for the first time in this year’s report. It will be the basis in future years for a scientific comparison between the status of Blacks and Whites in five areas: health, education, economics, social justice and civic engagement.
Now, 216 years after the U.S. Constitution stopped counting each Black slave as three-fifths of a person, the overall well-being of Blacks is still less than three-fourths (73 percent) when compared to their White counterparts, according to the report.
Of major concern is the fact that Black economic health is barely half that of Whites. The nation’s 35 million Blacks have poorer health, receive lower-quality education, live in poorer housing, and are granted fewer social justice protections than Whites, according to the report.
Data compiled by scholars and researchers commissioned by the NUL reveal that economic parity–including jobs, income, wealth-formation, and poverty–is still a long way off. The reality of the Black condition belies the glamorous condition projected in the popular media.
“We have comfortable images of the progress of civil rights, the effectiveness of affirmative action and the growth of the Black middle class,” said James Logan, director of the Mumford Center at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, according to a published report. “We imagine things make a decisive difference, but they’re only making small differences that are appearing slowly over time.”
Indeed, while the Black middle class has quadrupled in the 40 years since the dawning of the Civil Rights era, and while poverty has decreased by half during the same period, Blacks still have fewer internal resources upon which to rely to pull themselves up “by their own bootstraps.”
“This is going to be an evolutionary process,” Dr. James Lanier, Senior Resident Scholar for Community Justice Programs at the National Urban League’s Institute for Opportunity and Equality, told The Final Call. “What we have to do is stop talking about it. We do not have to continue to identify the problems. The same old data is out there. Now is a time to stop talking and start putting these programs into practice,” he continued. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or start a new program.”
Dr. Lanier and other scholars are particularly concerned about the status of Black males. Black males are only six percent of the U.S. population, but are 44 percent of the national prison population. On average, Black men who are employed earn nearly $16,900 less per year than White men, according to the report. And while the economic boom of the late 1990s boosted Black income and shrank unemployment to historic lows, amid the current slump Black joblessness has surged once again so that it is now double that of Whites.
“We looked at the paradox that exists between those African American males who are doing quite well, those who are achieving in athletics, academics, medicine, all of those areas that we are proud of the achievement we have made,” Dr. Lanier said in the interview.
“Then we looked at the paradox, that we have a lot of African American males who are struggling, in the criminal justice system, high drop-out rates. Looking at the fact that in education, our youngsters are more likely to be suspended; they drop out at a higher rate; They read at a lower rate. All of those bad things that we see.
“Basically, African American males are generally at the top of the ‘bad list’ and at the bottom of the ‘good list.’ We’re looking for solutions to empower them. We recommend that this has to be a total community effort, where we get the churches, the mosques, that we get all of the community resources. We want to get the parents involved in PTA. We want to get the sororities and fraternities, the Masonic Orders,” Dr. Lanier continued.
Young Black males are the highest-risk group for HIV and AIDS. There are more Black men behind bars than enrolled in college. And in New York City, more than 48 percent of Black men between the ages of 16 and 64 were unemployed last year.
Some observers now consider the Black middle class, despite its enormous growth in recent years, as being derelict in its duties to the larger Black society. “Martin Luther King Jr. came from a middle-class, two-parent, educated home,” Kevin Powell, author of “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? Manhood, Race and Power in America,” said, according to a published report. “Yet he led something called the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’ He understood the responsibility he had to poor people if we were all going to prosper.
“Today’s Black middle class has turned its back on the poor,” Mr. Powell continued. “In 1967, before he died, (Dr.) King said, ‘We need a radical revolution of values.’ That revolution is even more necessary today,” he said, rather than continuing to blame White society entirely for the misfortunes of the Black condition in this country.
In addition to Black economic status, which measures 56 percent of that of White counterparts, the report reveals that: the Black health status measures 78 percent of that of Whites; total education performance is 76 percent as compared to Whites; and when it comes to “equal justice under law,” Black status is 73 percent that of Whites.
Other examples presented in the report include:
Only 48 percent of Black families own their own homes, vs. more than 70 percent of Whites;
Black male median income is 70 percent that of White males, while Black females earn 83 percent of what White females earn on average;
Blacks attain college degrees at 63 percent the rate of their White counterparts, while teachers with less than three years experience are twice as likely to be in Black schools than in White schools;
Blacks are twice as likely to die from disease, an accident, and homicide in every age bracket compared to Whites;
Blacks who are arrested are three times more likely to be imprisoned than Whites, are less likely to get probation than White felons convicted of the same offense, and, on average, receive six months longer prison sentences than Whites convicted of the same crime.
Perhaps as a result of such grim statistics, Blacks are the most pessimistic group in the nation concerning the country’s future, according to the first NUL survey of the attitudes of Blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.
More than 60 percent of Blacks polled said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to Dr. Silas Lee, a New Orleans-based pollster and instructor at Xavier University, who conducted the survey.
“We identified the fact that disparity does exist,” Dr. Lee told The Final Call. “In subsequent years, we will be able to measure where progress has occurred and where it’s fallen short. This is America’s ‘Report Card on Equality,'” he said. “At this time, America gets an ‘I,’ incomplete. Some accomplishments have definitely been achieved, but more needs to be done.”