- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Social and economic progress among black Americans, although statistically proven, is “precarious and shaky” as well as “complex,” the leader of the National Urban League said yesterday.

Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the league, presented the group’s annual “State of Black America” report during an event that opened its legislative-policy conference.

He acknowledged data showing advancement across the board among black Americans — from the increase of membership in the country’s middle class to the number of college and high-school graduates.

“There is good news, and there is bad news,” Mr. Morial said at the outset of the presentation. Since the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said, “there has been progress. … [T]he number of African Americans in poverty has been cut in half. … [A]s the 21st century began in 2000, the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, a historic low.”

“We have indeed gained ground, but … the outlook is precarious,” said Mr. Morial, who last year succeeded Hugh Price as head of the league, which was founded in 1910. “While we celebrate Oprah and [Black Entertainment Television founder] Bob Johnson, the economic index is 56 percent to that of whites.”

The economic index is a new measure in the report, providing a statistical comparison between the status of blacks and whites in five areas: health, education, economics, social justice and civic engagement.

The status of black Americans, based on a weighted compilation of those five indexes, is 73 percent when compared with whites, according to the report.

Also included is a poll of 1,100 blacks, Hispanics and Asians, which surveys attitudes on various subjects.

Blacks topped the list of those dissatisfied with the status of the country, with 62 percent reporting that the nation is going in the wrong direction. Comparatively, 25 percent of Asians and 40 percent of Hispanics felt the same way.

Asked whether economic opportunities have increased since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, 18 percent of Asians answered “a lot,” while 13 percent of blacks responded that they were the same, and 32 percent of blacks reported “very little” improvement.

“What was once a glass ceiling is now a Plexiglas ceiling,” said Silas Lee, a pollster and professor of sociology at Xavier University in Louisiana, who presented the poll results yesterday. “This nation cannot afford to carry the burden of inequality. I encourage everyone to be vigilant as we march toward equality.”

Mr. Morial said there are solutions to the reported gap, especially an extension of unemployment benefits, which is pending in the Senate.

“Number two, we need to address tax and trade-policy reform,” he said. “I would think outsourcing is disproportionately affecting black Americans.”

Mr. Morial also urged more public funding for work-force reform, but asked for more nonprofits and corporations to get involved in job-training programs.

“This is a mission not only for the feds and the states and the counties, but also a mission for corporate America,” he said.

He also noted the Supreme Court decision last year upholding the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action program.

Legal challenges to race-based programs constitute “an assault on affirmative action,” Mr. Morial said, adding that the decline of such programs “has the potential to thwart the growth of business in the black community.”

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