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Report: Better economy hasn’t closed racial gap

Despite the improvement in the U.S. economy, stubborn gaps between black and white Americans remain,  the National Urban League reports in a new study.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even though the economy has picked up, stubborn gaps between blacks and whites remain — a reality highlighted by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the National Urban League reports in a new study.

“Two years ago, we saw that things were tough, but there was a recession,” Urban League President Marc H. Morial said. “Now that things are better, we’re still suffering. The jobless recovery is a real thing for black Americans.”

The Urban League’s annual State of Black America report, released Tuesday, pulls together government data and academic analysis to measure black progress and problems. The nearly 300-page report includes charts, essays and suggested policy changes.

For three years, blacks’ overall well-being compared to whites has stagnated, the report says. Though some African-Americans are prospering, in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement, blacks generally fare about three-quarters as well as whites, the report noted, citing figures from Global Insight Inc., an economic analysis company.

Government data show that black Americans have more than double the rates of infant mortality, unemployment and poverty as whites, the report also notes.

Home ownership
Owning a home is the way most Americans accumulate wealth, writes Lance Freeman, a Columbia University urban planning professor in one essay. In 2004, 49.1 percent of black Americans owned homes, the highest rate ever.

Still, that was 25 percentage points lower than for whites, and blacks’ homes were worth less, Freeman writes. Census data in 2000 showed blacks had barely one-tenth the net worth of whites.

Another essay analyzes causes and effects of the nation’s ballooning prison rolls. George Curry, an editor at the National Newspapers Publishers Association, writes that harsher laws for drug offenders helped to almost double prison and jail populations in the 1990s.

Curry cites a Justice Policy study that found that, by 2000, there were more African-American men in prison and jail (791,600) than were in higher education (603,000).

“When we send (students) to college instead of prison,” Curry writes, “we strengthen them, their families and our country in the process.”

Katrina's impact
Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, writes that the nation’s attention was turned to the plight of poor Americans during Hurricane Katrina.

He called the storm and flood that hit the Gulf Coast last August “this generation’s Bloody Sunday,” referring to the March 1965 civil rights march in Alabama that focused the nation’s attention on racial segregation in the South.

“Unfortunately,” he writes, “the initial flurry of concern and attention to poverty and injustice has given way to the status quo.”