- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Citing bleak data on incarceration, joblessness and AIDS, the National Urban League said yesterday that problems facing black men represent America’s most serious social crisis and proposed an aggressive campaign to provide them with more opportunities.

The 97-year-old black empowerment organization, in its annual State of Black America report, called for universal early childhood education, more second-chance programs for school dropouts and ex-offenders, and expanded use of all-male schools emphasizing mentoring and longer class hours.

“Empowering black men to reach their full potential is the most serious economic and civil rights challenge we face today,” said Urban League President Marc H. Morial. “Ensuring their future is critical, not just for the African-American community, but for the prosperity, health and well-being of the entire American family.”

According to the report, black men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males while earning 74 percent as much per year. They are nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, with average jail sentences about 10 months longer than those of white men, the report said.

In addition, it said, black males between 15 and 34 are nine times more likely to be killed by firearms and nearly eight times as likely to contract AIDS.

“I could rattle off the names of African-American men who have overcome the odds and have risen to national prominence,” Mr. Morial said. “But for all the Barack Obamas, Tony Dungys and Colin Powells out there … there are many more black men who face very limited opportunities and diminished expectations.”

“It’s not enough to have role models to give them hope,” he added. “We need a public commitment in the form of concrete policy strategies to help lift them out of their state of underachievement and put them on equal footing with white men in this nation.”

On several key measurements, the report found greater disparities between black and white men than between black and white women.

For example, it said unemployment for black men was 9.5 percent, compared with 4 percent for white men, while the jobless rate for black women was 8.5 percent, compared with 4.1 percent for white women.

In terms of annual median income, black men earned less than 75 percent of what white men did, $34,443 compared with $46,807. Black women made 87 percent of what white women made even though they earned $5,000 less than black men — $29,588 a year.

The report did highlight a few bright spots for blacks of both sexes: for example, in the improved readiness level of children entering elementary school.

However, the report cited a widening gap after elementary school as blacks begin to fall behind on standardized tests. In fourth grade, the report said, blacks perform at a level of 87 percent of whites; by the time they reach 12th grade, their scores are at 74 percent of whites.

By high school, blacks are more likely to drop out — 15 percent compared with 12 percent for whites. For black males, the percentage rises to 18 percent compared with 14 percent of white males, the report said.

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