Report Sees ‘Sobering Statistics’ on Racial Inequality

CNN, March 25, 2009

Social and economic gaps between whites and blacks persist in the United States despite an atmosphere that led to the election of President Obama, an Urban League report said.

Blacks remain twice as likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned compared with whites, according to the group’s annual State of Black America report issued Wednesday.

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“As the Obama administration ushers in a new era of hope, change, and to some extent, unity for this nation, many are asking whether racial barriers have now been erased in America,” the report said. “Are discrimination, division and inequality antiquated relics of the past? For a quick answer to that question, one has but to review some of the sobering statistics.”

The Urban League’s equality index shows the status of blacks at 71 percent that of whites. It said that economics “remains the area with the greatest degree of inequality,” with social justice, health and education following.

“The analysis shows that while important gains were made, both for blacks and whites, in each of these areas during the 1990s expansion, there was actually a loss of ground in median household income, poverty and home ownership during the 2001-2007 expansion, known as the jobless recovery,” the report’s executive summary said.

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One, from Gwendolyn Grant of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, warns that the “historic” election of Obama, the nation’s first black president, “may cause us to fall prey to a false sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction, and that apathy and complacency may set in.”

“We must use this moment to reinvigorate the movement and re-engage the nation in a struggle to finish the job of equality, liberty and justice for all. So as we move past this historic moment, let us not repeat the history of our greatest popular movements and allow injustice to prevail, simply because a black family lives in the White House.”

Grant proposes that a movement to foster equality for blacks in all realms of American life should be “fashioned” after ideas promulgated by the Obama campaign. Those ideas include blending personal responsibility and “principled ideas” with pragmatism, and building grass-roots movements crossing racial, ethnic, generational, gender and regional lines.

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The report lists policy recommendations in the areas of home ownership, jobs, health and education. Here is a sampling:

# Increasing funding for underskilled workers’ job training programs.

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# Funding infrastructure development for public building construction and renovations of schools, community centers, libraries, recreation centers and parks.

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# Passing a home buyers’ bill of rights that would protect and educate consumers and provide home-buying help.

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# Developing “a comprehensive health infrastructure for the delivery of health education, prevention and intervention initiatives” for blacks.

# Studying health care in the criminal justice system as it relates to black inmates.

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[Editor’s Note: “The State of Black America 2009” can be ordered here. Abstracts and the executive summary can be downloaded as PDF files on that same page.]


As the dust clears on the newly enacted economic stimulus package, it’s clear there are some big winners, some smaller winners and only a few left out in the cold under the compromise legislation totaling $789 billion.

The package has more than $100 billion for education, including $15 billion to bolster the Pell Grant program through a $500 increase in the maximum grant for needy students. Almost as significant for many students is a two-year American Opportunity Tax Credit, which will provide many low- and middle-income families with a $2,500 annual credit to offset college costs. This credit will be more generous than the current $1,500 credit available through the HOPE Scholarship.

“Partial refundability is great. That’s new for higher education,” says Angela Peoples, legislative director of the United States Student Association, which has advocated the approach since the start of the debate.

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Pipeline programs: Core initiatives for low-income children such as Title I and Head Start will get significant boosts, a move that may help millions of future college students. Title I will receive $13 billion in new funding with an eye toward reducing achievement gaps, and special education will get an additional $12 billion. Head Start will get $2 billion, half of which is going to its infant/toddler component, Early Head Start. {snip}

States and school districts: {snip} Of the $56 billion, $5 billion is available only as bonuses for school districts that meet high-performance targets.

Job training programs: {snip} The bill has $3.95 billion in additional funding for adult and youth programs, including $1.2 billion to create an estimated 1 million summer jobs for youth.

Science: The final package includes $8.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3 billion for research activities at the National Science Foundation. {snip}

Education technology: Some college students may find it easier to buy computers, since the bill will allow owners of the popular 529 Education Plans to spend proceeds on the costs of computer technology. Students and parents already can put these funds toward tuition, fees, books as well as room and board. At the K-12 level, the stimulus bill includes $650 million for computer and science labs as well as related teacher training.

Among other things, the package earmarks $200 million to bolster funding for the college work-study program. And, states are eligible for $250 million in competitive grants to design data systems that improve the analysis of student achievement.

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