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Date: Sun, 1 Dec 96 13:50:33 CST
From: scott@rednet.org (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: 'The State of Black America 1996': Bad and getting worse
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 1527

'The State of Black America 1996': Bad and getting worse

By Fred Gaboury, in People's Weekly World
30 November 1996

NEW YORK - Advance copies of the 21st edition of the Urban League's The State of Black America were made available to the press on Nov. 22. In nine essays discussing the questions of unemployment and underemployment; infant mortality and life expectancy; income, housing and health, the report documents its conclusion that the fundamental question facing Black America - and millions of other Americans - is poverty.

The League has always recognized the centrality of poverty as the determining factor in its report and has issued many calls for increased job opportunities. But this year there is something different: In words that leave no room for misunderstanding, Hugh Price, the League's president, calls for an urban policy centered on a modern-day Works Progress Administration (WPA) to end the "Great Depression in America's ghettos. There is nothing un-American about spending money to help fill gaping holes in the labor market," he writes.

And there are gaping holes:

  • Even the understated "official" figures show an unemployment rate in the African American community double that among non-Hispanic white workers - and that has remained at or above 10 percent since the mid-1970s.
  • More than 40 percent of African American households in metropolitan areas are trapped in what the Census Department calls "high poverty neighborhoods."
  • One out of every three African Americans live in poverty, a rate three times that of whites. Although African Americans constitute only 15 percent of the total population, they constitute 40 percent of those living in poverty.
  • In 1984 African American men working full-time year-round had incomes averaging less than 75 percent of non-Hispanic white men while the average annual earnings of African American women fell 15 percent below that of non-Hispanic white women.
  • African American high school graduates earn about 82 percent of what white graduates earn and the gap widens as the level of education increases: While Black male high school graduates earn $1,490 per year more than a white high school drop-outs, African American males with college degrees earn only $7,000 per year more than white high school graduates.

Dr. June Jackson Christmas, the Urban League's Urban Issues Group director, says that African Americans will not reach the goals set in Healthy People 2000, a government report that sets forth a national strategy to improve the nation's health, because of major disparities that continue to exist between their health status and that of white Americans.

"African Americans still endure significant health problems which are caused and exacerbated by poverty, lack of culturally competent health-care providers, ineffective health care and racial discrimination," Christmas writes. She adds that improvements in these areas are not enough to guarantee better health among African Americans. "The problems that afflict African Americans as a group begin, literally, before birth for far too many infants and continue to the end of life."

  • In 1993, life expectancy for African Americans was 69.3 years compared to 76.3 years for white Americans and more than 75 years for the population as a whole. The disparity is even more glaring for African American men whose life expectancy is more than eight years less than white men. While life expectancy for whites increased during the 1980s, it declined for African Americans.
  • At 16.8 deaths per 100,000 births, African Americans have the highest infant mortality rates of all ethnic groups and nearly three times the mortality rate of white infants.
  • If African Americans were considered a separate population group in the world, their infant mortality rate would rank number 40.
  • A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found infant mortality rates to be 60 percent higher for women living below the poverty line than for those living above it.
  • Among the leading causes of infant mortality are disorders due to short gestation and low birth weight, both associated with poverty sand malnutrition.

Christmas says the HMO drive to cut the cost of health care and a "mood of conservatism" among policy makers makes it harder for African Americans to achieve Year 2000 targets: The change from public responsibility to corporate privatization, mergers and "megasystem networks," block grant to states, a diminished role for the federal government and "a level of government historically inattentive to Black Americans" will deal heavy blows to the poor and especially to African Americans.

"Further," she says, "the policy of cutting back on the number of medical graduates and decreasing the ratio of specialists to primary care doctors does not address the gross under-representation of [African Americans] as both specialists and primary care physicians."

Timothy Bass, professor of labor and urban affairs at Wayne State University, criticizes the job-creation strategies of cities that, he says, are a two-edged sword: While development of central business districts creates more white-collar jobs, they will, if successful, create many low-wage service jobs, thus contributing to the proliferation of low-wage work.

Bass says such policies are "a cause of, not a cure for" low wages. He charges that maintaining the poverty inherent in low-wage industry is an important component of city development strategies. "It is the practices adopted by employers, not trends in worker productivity, which is increasingly responsible for rising poverty that is rooted in declining compensation and job security."

In closing, Bass says the "challenges to this emerging status quo, if they are forthcoming, will arise when younger generations put forth a class-based agenda to reverse the decline of the institutionalized power of labor."

While not written in the language of working people, the message of The State of Black America 1996 came through clearly: The fight for equality - and therefore, to close the "gaping holes" that are documented in the report - must go hand-in-hand with any struggle aimed at resolving the problems facing working people. And the fact that trade union and African American votes were two of the most important components of the coalition that denied Bob Dole the keys to the White House shows that it can be done.

'We need a modern-day WPA'

We believe the urban policy must have a laser-like focus on jobs for the inner-city poor. No fancy master plans. No complex policies with dozens of components. We need public policies which make work economically worthwhile ...

We've been content for too long with a low-wage economy that locks hard-working Americans into poverty. Boosting the minimum wage helps a bit, as does protecting the Earned Income Tax Credit from continuous assault by Congress.

Make no mistake. Inner city folk want to work. We've got to spread the job action around if inner city folk are to work - and if cities are to work.

There is no macro-economic policy, no economic growth scenario, no Model Cities approach, no black capitalism strategy and no enterprise zone experiment imaginable that can match the Depression-era Works Progress Administration in jumpstarting hope by driving unemployment down in a hurry ...

There is nothing un-American about spending public money to help fill gaping holes in the labor market ... An urban jobs policy aimed at putting inner-city people back to work wouldn't differ in principle from such past efforts as the WPA.

-Hugh B. Price, president, National Urban League

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