Sunday, March 13, 2011
When the National Urban League released its annual State of Black America report last week, its message had the unpleasant flavor of familiarity.
At a D.C. press conference, vice president of research Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson read directly from the League’s inaugural 1976 report, citing an urgent need for job creation.
“There is a sense of déja vu, particularly back in 1975 when the economy dipped and declined,” the League’s president and CEO Marc H. Morial told The Root.
Back in the mid-70s, when an oil crisis prompted the last great recession, the poverty rate among African Americans hovered above 30 percent. Over the course of that decade, the number of African Americans living in extremely poor inner-city neighborhoods grew by 164 percent, in contrast to just 24 percent for whites. (By comparison, the African American poverty rate was about 25 percent in 2008, before the worst of the recession took hold, according to the Census Bureau.)
In 2009, black unemployment neared 15 percent, compared to nine percent of whites. That’s far above the 1990s low of seven percent. It’s also nearly four times higher than Morial’s target rate of four percent.
Not only are African Americans disproportionately impacted by unemployment, but they also make up a disproportionate share of people out of work from six months or upwards of a year, according to a March report by Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.
The Urban League’s proposed solution — $168 billion in federal spending over two years toward direct job creation, expansion of the Small Business Administration’s loan program, the creation of green empowerment zones, expanded hiring of housing counselors nationwide and expanded summer jobs programs for youth — doesn’t focus on African Americans exclusively. Instead, it is aimed at all communities battling chronic unemployment.
People in these areas, which are also heavily Hispanic, tend to lack the education and job skills to get back on their feet speedily. That’s why Morial believes Obama’s recently signed $38 billion jobs bill, which includes tax breaks and spending for transit programs, doesn’t provide enough of the right kind of aid.
The Urban League faces a tough political battle in selling that kind of investment to a cash-poor Congress. But as we try to crawl out of the economic crisis, we ought to remember that communities disproportionately hurt by the recession will need a disproportionate boost toward recovery.
Photo credit: Planet Love
Tara Kyle is a multimedia reporter/producer whose stories have appeared in FLYP Media, PBS Online NewsHour, Time.com and The Real Deal. She won a 2008 Webby Award.
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