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Zenitha Prince, NNPA, Afro-American Newspapers
Published: 25 March 2009

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Despite the election of the nation's first Black president and the growing clout of Black Capitol Hill lawmakers, the lot of African-Americans remains largely unchanged and even slightly worse, according to the National Urban League's "The State of Black America 2009" report released March 18.

"For Black America, it's a tale of two cities," NUL President/CEO Marc Morial told members of the Black Press during a March 17 phone conference about the annual report that gauges Black progress. "It's an important time to celebrate successes in the political arena but that doesn't mean the dream is realized."

The 2009 Equality Index — a mechanism used in the report to judge the status of Blacks compared to Whites in key areas such as economics, education, health, social justice and civic engagement—offers "sobering statistics," according to the report.

Overall, parity decreased from 71.5 to 71.1 percent, the index showed. The trend was largely fed by disparities in economic markers. With African Americans twice as likely as Whites to be unemployed and three times more likely to live in poverty; and with the gap in homeownership rates widening from 64 to 63 percent, economics remained the area with the greatest degree of inequality and worsened from 57.6 percent in 2008 to 57.4 percent in 2009.

With Blacks six times more likely than Whites to be incarcerated, equality in social justice also remained elusive, declining from 62.1 to 60.4 percent.

Education (78.6 percent to 78.5 percent) and civic engagement (100.3 percent to 96.3) also demonstrated growing rather than diminishing gaps.

Health care was the only area that showed progress, with parity increasing from 73.3 percent to 74.4 percent. Of special note, the overall health insurance gap closed by 2 percentage points and by 3 percentage points for children, an improvement seen mostly among uninsured African-American children, the number of which decreased from 14 percent to 12 percent.

In addition to a statistical analysis of the state of the Black community, the report also features essays from a range of experts, including Washington legislators and economists that offer recommendations for improvement.

"We think we can't be just diagnostic but prescriptive, then try to put muscle and whatever advocacy we have behind the implementation [of those ideas]," Morial said.

Among the recommendations: mandatory, universal early childhood education; longer school days; a thorough examination of the criminal justice system as it relates to treatment and rehabilitation of African-American males; directing funds towards training Blacks for green industry jobs so a "green divide" doesn't take place of the "digital divide"; creating a HUD task force to investigate and prosecute violations of fair-housing laws and more.

The recommendations, as part of the 2009 report, will be delivered to the White House with the hope that the president will "embrace" the ideas and "direct" his senior staff to explore their implementation as policy, Morial said.

Referring to the subtitle of the report, Stephanie Jones, executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute and editor of the document, added, "We look at this as more than a message to the president, but a road map for the new president to get us back on track."

Morial said he is confident about the administration's reception of the report. Not only did the president endorse similar policy guidelines in the past and include the National Urban League in policy discussions in an unprecedented way, but the president's policy outlines already reflect some of those ideas.

"To hear the president talk about it, it was if he endorsed those recommendations," Morial said.

Still, given the budget and policy battles looming over the White House and Capitol Hill, Morial added, policy victories that benefit the Black community will come from hard-fought battles.

"I've always believed that the important struggle to achieve equality is, in fact, a struggle."


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