The National Urban League’s latest report, “State of Black America 2005: Prescription for Change,” is yet another warning that structural inequality and racism are leaving Africans Americans behind, marginalizing major segments of our society. Warning “our nation [to] wake up” to the stark realities of African American problems, the report presents data and analyses showing that inequality between Blacks and whites in urban America is not improving. The report recommends urgent changes in national policies and priorities, including an increase in the minimum wage and expansion of job training and career counseling efforts with a focus on young urban males.
The League, which has been producing the report for 29 years, says improvements were made in the first few years, but a disturbing negative trend has developed more recently. Urban League President Marc Morial characterized it as “the Great Backslide.”
This follows other troubling studies showing similar trends in health care, education, civil rights, and employment, as well as other systemic problems affecting the African American community that reflect “an incomplete civil rights agenda.”
“When one community in America suffers,” Morial said, “our entire economy suffers.”
Unemployment rates for Black men age 20 and over remains in double digits — the highest in all categories. Overall, Black unemployment is more than twice that of whites.
According to the Community Service Society of New York, unemployment for Black men in New York City is above 50 percent. CSS reported that unemployment of African Americans in the 16-24 age group is even higher. Three million jobs have been lost during the George W. Bush presidency.
Basil Wilson, provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, told the World that unemployment is one of the chronic issues of U.S. capitalism.
“In a context of enormous rates of surplus labor, many people find refuge or survival through underground, illegitimate kinds of hustling, as in the drug trade.”
Federal, state and local incarceration rates are increasing, particularly among Black men. African Americans are three times more likely to be incarcerated and the average jail sentence for the same crime is six months longer for Blacks than whites. African American incarceration statistics almost mirror unemployment rates.
“What is paradoxical is that we have had a reduction in crime and yet the incarceration rates continue to climb,” said Wilson. “A lot of the incarceration stems from drug arrests … [And] there is a disparity in how the drug strategy is manifested more in Black and Latin communities than in white communities.”
African American males born today have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison during their lifetime, compared to a 1-in-17 chance for white males. African American inmates represent an estimated 44 percent of all inmates with sentences of more than one year.
In addition, African Americans are twice as likely as whites to die unnecessarily or prematurely — from diseases, homicide, accidents, etc. Even Black professionals die at higher rates than whites. One in every four African Americans lives in poverty and almost half of those who live in poverty live in extreme poverty.
Despite the bleak picture, there are some positive trends. There is an increase in the numbers of African Americans entering college.
Labor has been recognizing that there is an important role it can play, Wilson noted. The labor movement has stepped up its efforts in “mobilizing constituencies, such as women, Blacks, immigrants, in order to address the social disintegration that has been occurring,” he said.
Wilson sees hope for change in social movements as a way to counteract the negative effects of the Bush administration and capitalism. The increasing activism within the hip-hop community, such as involvement in protests and voter registration campaigns, also bodes well for change, he said.