Date: Sun, 1 Dec 96 13:50:33 CST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: 'The State of Black America 1996': Bad and getting worse
Organization: Scott Marshall
'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
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
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
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
-Hugh B. Price, president, National Urban League
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