The State of Black America

By Marc H. Morial
President
National Urban League

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

So goes the old saying. But what if the rest of the house is as hot as the
kitchen?

What if the heat is turned up high in every room? What if there's no hiding
place?

The first answer to these questions is obvious.

There is no hiding place from the "heat" of living in today's world.

From our responsibility to prepare our children to conquer the regime of highstakes
testing in elementary and secondary schools. From our finding ways to improve
the access to health care and other facets of the quality of life in black communities.

From our protecting and expanding the political gains and future political possibilities
produced by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. From our insuring that the global fight
against terror does not erode America's moral character or Americans' civil liberties.

From our exercising the entrepreneurial discipline and innovation it takes to build up
black wealth in individual and group terms.

All these challenges, and many more—the "heat" of the world today—are
powerfully discussed in our newest edition of the National Urban League's signature
publication, The State of Black America 2005: Prescriptions for Change.

In essays, reports, and op-ed articles, and in the second edition of the National
Urban League Equality Index, The State of Black America illuminates the equality gaps
that still separate African Americans and white Americans.

Statistically, the Index's overall figure of 0.73 percent—the status of African
Americans compared to their fellow white Americans—is essentially unchanged from
last year.

However, that seeming stasis can't obscure facts and circumstances which grow
more worrisome by the day. The black unemployment rate continues to hover between
ten and eleven percent—more than twice the white unemployment rate. The number of
African Americans mired in long-term unemployment is at a twenty-year high. African
Americans, already far behind whites in ownership of assets, lost more than one-quarter
of their wealth in the wake of the 2001 recession and jobless recovery, while whites'
wealth slowly grew; and so on.

In other words, the facts that lead to the numbers of the Equality Index make it
clear that to stand still in the current climate is lose ground. And they show why blacks'
building economic strength and closing these equality gaps is the major civil rights issue
of our time.

That's also why this edition of The State of Black America continues the Urban
League tradition of not simply identifying the problems, but of proposing solutions as
well.

Our six-point "prescriptions for change" is brief—because we consider it a
starting point for the broad societal discussion that needs to occur if the pursuit of
opportunity in America is to, not grow narrower, but expand.

For example, we call for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which
expires in 2007. That act was not only the foundation of the progress modern Black
America has made, it brought true democracy to the United States as a whole. America
could not bear the cost of the Congress letting it lapse.

We also call for universal early childhood education, and for a renewed focus on
forging policies and taking actions that create jobs and enable individuals and groups to
amass wealth. One crucial step the federal government can take is to raise the
minimum wage from its current $5.25 per hour to $7.15. In this, the richest nation on
earth, the minimum wage surely ought to be a wage at which working people can live
decently.

Of course, African Americans as individuals and as a group must take seriously
their responsibility to forge a more economically secure status for Black America,
especially for the forty percent of them whose annual incomes hover at or below the
poverty line. The black middle class and the stable working class have always taken on
that challenge. Now, they must become more resolute and vigorous in their
approaches.

Blacks who are poor have responsibilities, too: to strive to achieve and to
continue to have hope.

Indeed, we should consider their rushing to fill the low-wage service-sector jobs
that suddenly became open to them in the late 1990s economic boom—a jobs rush that
drove the black unemployment rate down to an historic low of 7 percent, and blasted all
the tendentious assertions that the black poor don't understand the value of work—the
starting point of our renewed effort to make sure Black America can stand the heat, no
matter what room in the house we're in.

In that way, one day we'll be able to calculate the National Urban League
Equality Index and see that all American groups have reached the value of one.

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