Urban League Calls For the Reinvestment of America
According to a Pew Center poll from March, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the gap dividing the haves and have-nots in the United States is growing, up 8 percentage points from 2002 and at its highest level since the early 1990s when 80 percent agreed with the statement.
Most surprisingly is that a rapidly increasing portion of the nation's higher earners in this survey believed the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed whose annual income exceeded $75,000 expressed support for this assertion, compared to 51 percent in 2003 -- a 14 percentage point gain in just four years. It was the largest single increase among all income groups. In addition, a higher percentage of Americans in 2007 felt that their ultimate success is dictated by outside factors -- not their own drive and determination compared to 2003 -- 34 percent versus 30 percent.
What does this tell us? That in just four years Americans of all colors have lost even more faith in the system. That we are a nation at a crossroads. We have two choices -- either go down the path we're on and be resigned to the consequences of producing a society of haves and have-nots – or redirect our energies toward effecting change and delivering upon the promise made over 230 years ago that all Americans should have equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.
That is why the National Urban League is now extending its reach past providing programs for and becoming the voice for urban America in Washington, D.C. We want to put our expertise to broader use at the national, state and local governmental levels. We want to play the pivotal role in putting urban America back on the path of greatness. And we expect our future president to feel the same as we do about the importance of this mission to revitalize our urban communities and close the equality gaps.
So, we have been working on our own set of public policy prescriptions to nurse urban America back to fiscal health and beyond. It is called The Opportunity Compact: Blueprint for Economic Equality. The policy recommendations offered are not a laundry list of things for the federal government to perform on behalf of a select group of citizens. Rather, they present opportunities for all interested parties to play a role in improving our nation's global competitiveness by maximizing the potential of all its citizens – not just African Americans, not just Hispanics and not just Asians but all Americans.
It revolves around four main core issues -- children's wellbeing, jobs, homeownership and entrepreneurship -- that the National Urban League considers to be key components of the American dream. These core areas are represented through four underlying guiding principles: the opportunity to thrive, the opportunity to earn, the opportunity to own and the opportunity to prosper.
All children deserve to live poverty-free in safe homes with adequate nutrition and affordable quality health care and deserve a quality education that will prepare them to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. To achieve this, we're calling for mandatory early childhood education coupled with access to college education. We're also calling for the extension of health benefits to children whose parents earn too much for them to qualify for government health care coverage as well as calling for increased support benefits for struggling working families.
All willing adults should have jobs that allow them to earn a decent wage and provide a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families. To bring this about, among other recommendations, we've called upon leaders to index the minimum wage to inflation and proposed the creation of an Urban Infrastructure Bank, modeled after the World Bank, to help jumpstart ailing urban economies by infusing into them money to rebuild old infrastructure while at the same time putting local residents to work.
All adults should have access to the financial security that comes from owning a home. To achieve this goal, we've urged leaders to allow for the establishment of homeownership development accounts similar to 401-K accounts to help homebuyers save for their first home, among other suggestions. And finally, every individual who possesses entrepreneurial vision should have access to the resources needed to launch and grow a viable business enterprise. Greater micro-financing opportunities, among other recommendations, is one means to that end.
We are the nation that developed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. We are the nation that created the International Monetary Fund to build the world. We should be the nation that can bridge its own economic disparities. If we can rally around the war in Iraq, why wouldn't we be able to rally around rebuilding our urban communities and toppling the inequalities that stand in the way of our nation making good on its own true potential?
Why not put our American ingenuity to use in our own backyard? Now, it's time to build a phoenix out of our crumbling inner cities much the way a devastated Japan resurrected itself after World War II.
Marc Morial is president of the National Urban League.