By BET.com Political Columnist
BET.com
updated 4/8/2005 8:03:47 AM ET 2005-04-08T12:03:47

Let’s face it. Another report about black folks lagging behind white folks is just one more dog bites man story.

It’s really no surprise that a National Urban League “Equality Index” finds African Americans lagging significantly behind that of white Americans.

And the Urban League declaration that “changes in national policies and priorities must be made to help,” is just as likely to bring a collective “duh” as it is a rousing “amen.”

"Nation must wake up"
But it’s just that type of apathetic attitude that Marc Morial, the Urban League’s president and CEO, feels must be fought – and not just for the sake of black Americans.

“Our nation must wake up,” he said as the Urban League released its report on “The State of black America 2005.” “The growing wealth gap in this country is not just leaving behind black America,” he added. “It’s leaving behind the middle class, urban America, rural America and Hispanic America, too.”

The message from Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, is that apathy toward the problems that hit African Americans particularly hard amounts to a toxin for the whole country. “When one community in America suffers, our entire economy suffers,” his statement continued. Certainly it suffers when the economic status of African Americans is just 57 percent of that enjoyed by white Americans, according to the report. With black unemployment more than twice the white rate, black people can’t buy as many goods and services, don’t pay as much in taxes and are more likely to need government assistance. Everyone would benefit with economic parity.

The report says that the overall status of black people is 73 percent of -- or put differently, 27 percent lower than -- their white counterparts. Other points on the Equality Index say if the white status is 100 percent, then black health is 76, black education is 77 and social justice for African Americans ranks just 68 percent.

State of black America
In human terms, according to the report, that means:

  • Black people die before white people and increasing rates of obesity among African Americans is one of several reasons why.
  • Black students receive inferior education; teachers with less than three years experience teach in minority schools at twice the rate of teachers in white schools.
  • Black arrestees are three times more likely to become prisoners and the average sentence for a black convict is six months longer for the same crime.

In the area of civil engagement, however, black people slightly out-measure white folks with a rating of 108. One source of that is the higher rate of voluntary military service by black Americans.

In the many years the Urban League has been issuing its “State of black America” reports, this is the first time it has included recommendations for specific policies and actions “to stem the ‘backslide’ of progress,” the organization said in a press release.

In fact, the subtitle of the 199-page report is “Prescriptions for Change.”  The five prescriptions, and the several sub-prescriptions within them, cover a range of issues, from reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, to increasing the minimum wage, to expanding business development and job training opportunities, to better educational and health care services.

(By the way, the Voting Rights Act will not expire in 2007, as the report says; only portions – albeit important portions -- of it will if not renewed by Congress).

No criticism of Bush
The non-partisan Urban League, which works well with the Bush administration and gets grants from it, did not include any criticism, nor any praise for that matter, of the president in its prescriptions.

That lack of critique is particularly noticeable given the disapproval President Bush’s budget proposals, for example, have received from many politicians, organizations and commentators who study issues of importance to African Americans.

Instead, Morial sent a letter to the president, the Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, and chairmen of the black and Hispanic caucuses in Congress with a request to create a Commission on Economic Opportunity for All. Like the recommendations, the letter was careful not to step on anyone’s toes.

“We need members from both parties and both houses of Congress to get together and realize the responsibility of our nation to provide economic opportunity for all of its citizens is the great civil rights challenge of our time,” his letter said. That language certainly shouldn’t trigger the kind of Internal Revenue audit the NAACP now faces.

The report also calls on African Americans, especially middle class black folks, to engage in “civic tithing,” by supporting black colleges, churches and organizations with time and money. The Urban League urges all black people to increase black wealth by focusing on investment opportunities, savings and estate planning.

Calling the employment gap the biggest problem, Morial told BET’s Nightly News: “We’re in a plateau in our progress.” He said 300 Urban League representatives would take the organization’s recommendations to members of Congress.

“We’re going to be vigilant…” he said in the televised interview. “It’s a call to a new crusade.”

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