By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO,
National Urban League
In the 1960s, African Americans made great strides in equalizing the
equation in the United States. The civil rights movement cleared the way
for greater political and social empowerment of blacks.
The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act brought about greater
political and civic participation, while Affirmative Action opened up
the hallowed halls of academia and the offices of Corporate America.
But 40 years later, there still remains work to be done – especially on
the economic front. The civil right movement of the 1960s and 1970s has
not ended – it has just changed.
In the 2006 State of Black of America's equality index, the National
Urban League found that the economic status of African Americans is 56
percent of that of whites when comparing income, unemployment,
homeownership, business ownership, median net worth and poverty rates.
By contrast, blacks fared better on the health, education, social
justice and civic engagement fronts – at least 74 percent of whites and
better. They even surpassed whites in terms of civic engagement — 1.04
percent of whites.
From 1967 to 2005, the rate of increase of median income for black
households outpaced that of white households – 44 percent to 21 percent.
Still, blacks lagged behind whites by roughly $20,000 a year — $30,858
vs. $50,784. Or in other words, blacks made 60 percent of what whites
did in 2005, compared to 51 percent in 1967. Homeownership by blacks hit
an all-time high in 2004 at 49.1 percent but still well behind the 76
percent for whites. And net worth is a mere one-tenth of that of whites.
This is not our grandfathers' civil rights struggle. While fighting for
the right to participate in our nation's political and social
institutions as well as the right to be represented in academia and in
the boardrooms of Corporate America, our generation needs to fight for
financial independence and economic prosperity.
As I have said before and will say again, economic empowerment is the
civil rights movement of the 21st Century. It is core component of the
National Urban League's mission statement and embraces four major
tenets: better jobs, increased homeownership, greater entrepreneurship
and enhanced financial literacy.
No less important than our predecessors' struggles, this has more to do
with our own individual efforts to improve our bottom line, which is our
only hope if we want to close the remaining gaps between minorities and
whites in the United States.
That is why we have launched what promises to be a multi-city Economic
Empowerment Tour to kick off in Pittsburgh on October 27. In addition to
heightening awareness of the economic disparities across our country, we
are providing practical tools – information, guidance and access – to
enable participants to seize control of their financial futures.
Why Pittsburgh? According to the University of Pittsburgh's 2004
Black-White Benchmarks study, the city stands as one of the most
disadvantaged for African Americans of 70 cities nationwide in terms of
homeownership, median household income and poverty rates.
The city ranked 50th among 70 U.S. cities for black homeownership in
2000: Only 34.5 percent of the city's African Americans compared to 59.9
percent of whites owned their own home. Household median income for the
city's African Americans stood at $20,075 a year in 2000, compared to
$32,692 by white households, putting Pittsburgh at 66th of 70 U.S.
cities. And the city had the 7th highest rate of poverty in 2000: 34.1
percent of blacks were poor, compared to 14.3 percent of whites.
Entitled "You, Your Money, Your Future," this one-day event, which will
take place at Carnegie Mellon University's McConomy Auditorium, is free
and open to the general public. It will focus on improving homeownership
and will feature a resource fair where representatives from local
financial institutions, insurers and government agencies on hand to help
guide participants through the process of securing mortgage loans,
keeping their loans in good standing and other essentials of owning a
home. A town hall meeting featuring John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation
Hope, and Urban League of Pittsburgh President Esther L. Bush, among
others, will follow to discuss the subject of economic empowerment and
its importance for the African-American community and our society in
With the 2008 presidential and congressional elections just two years
away, this tour is also intended to provoke U.S. decision-makers to put
the issue of economic inequality on the national agenda. We've heard
more than enough about national security but too little about personal
Economic empowerment is not exclusive to the African American community.
Americans of all walks of life, color, religion and economic background
are hurting from the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots
in this nation.
According to a 2006 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for
Economic and Policy Research, the United States ranked behind only
Mexico of the world's 28 most developed countries with the greatest gap
between the rich and poor.
No one wins in a nation where great disparities – not only between
minorities and whites but haves and have-nots – are present. It not only
threatens our competitiveness. It threatens our standard of living and
reverse gains made as a result of the sacrifice of previous generations.
It is in the self-interest of everyone to empower themselves and their
neighbors to continue to keep this nation a global powerhouse. In light
of the ever-competitive global economy, we owe it to our future
generations to stand as role models of economic empowerment to encourage
them to prepare themselves for the best future possible.
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