Edge of Black America
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|Jim Fry||March 30th 2009|
The National Urban League says, despite the hope generated by the election of the first black U.S. president, African-Americans are faring worse in an economy in which the gap between the "American dream" and reality is widening. The Urban League says it will be pushing to ensure blacks benefit from the jobs and money Congress and President Obama made available in the economic stimulus plan.
On "H" Street in Washington, D.C., about 13 blocks from the U.S. Capitol, there is a steady stream of people at the unemployment office. One of them is electrician Stanley Currie, who is in a training program for government jobs.
"It's possible that you will get hired. But the probability of you getting hired - the odds are not with you," he says.
And that is the story in places that are predominantly African-American, in city after city. Unemployment, running nationally at 8.1 percent, is in double digits among blacks.
"Might be higher than that. I am a believer that it's higher than that, because I've been living here all my life and I see it," says Donald Long, who is unemployed.
And unemployment is just one factor leading the National Urban League to conclude there is still an "intolerable divide" between blacks and whites.
"African-Americans remain twice as likely as white Americans to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty, and six times as likely to be incarcerated," says Urban League President Marc Morial.
The civil rights group says there is a gap in educational achievement - whites doing better than blacks. Blacks also have less access to health care. Government figures show about one in five do not have health insurance.
As for housing, African-Americans are rejected more often for home mortgages. And a greater percentage have been sold risky subprime mortgages, which have led to higher foreclosures. All of these statistics have remained dismal, even as the first Africa-American president took office.
Obama himself speaks of the "justifiable pride" people took in the country moving beyond "the searing legacies of racial discrimination."
"But that lasted about a day..." he said. "And right now, the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged."
And that would be on how he can repair the economy, he told reporters at a news conference this week where he was asked about race.
The election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president will not solve problems plaguing African-Americans, but Morial says it does give blacks hope for the future. "I think the euphoria and the excitement is still there. It's not just an excitement about the president. It's an excitement about the possibilities for the future."
But now, with billions of dollars in economic stimulus money going out to communities, Morial is urging local officials and unions to include blacks in the hiring.
Civil rights officials, he says, will keep both light and heat on the situation. "Light, in the sense of transparency, so that we're monitoring very closely what they're doing," Morial says. "Heat, in the sense that we're going to keep the pressure on everyone to ensure that urban communities are not left by the wayside."
At the unemployment office, they've heard all this before. "I hope they do that. They say that a lot," says Long. "Sometimes we be the last ones to find out about the jobs." And Urban League leaders say despite having a black president in office, they cannot close up shop and go home.
Jim Fry writes for VOA.