This week the National Urban League released its 2013 State of Black America report, a comprehensive, data-driven assessment of where black and Latino Americans stand in relation to their white counterparts in the US.
The report documents extraordinary gains in education even as it underscores inequities in employment that continue to be reflected in the income gaps that underwrite so many social factors, effectively detailed in the Equality Index, the National Urban League’s comprehensive model that accounts for education, health, civic engagement, social justice, and economics across race, taking into account age, region, and other factors.
The report cites important gains in educational attainment in the last 50 years spurred by Civil Rights activism and legislation as well as Affirmative Action policies. For example, in 2013 there are 3-4 times as many black students enrolled in college as there were in 1963.
Marc Morial provides clarification
While this kind of educational progress is important, the NUL’s president, Marc Morial, spoke to theGrio, to provide some clarification and qualification of this data.
“It is important to note that (educational) gains have been made overall in America,” said Morial. “There are more high school and college graduates overall because the economy demands a better educated worker.”
This progress in the college enrollment data should not obscure the persistent unemployment gaps between whites and blacks.
According to the report, “progress in closing the college enrollment gap is 5 times the progress in closing the unemployment rate gap.”
Key factors for fight for equality
Morial sees several factors that account for this pronounced inequality in the progress towards equality:
“1.) The recession of 2008 made a tough problem even worse – spikes in the black unemployment rate were greater than the national rates. 2.) We have to acknowledge the existence of employment discrimination – its tougher for blacks (even with college degrees) to get a job. And 3.) African Americans tend to be more predominantly at the bottom end of the economic pool. There is a higher percentage of (black) people with less education.”
The NUL plans on addressing some of these challenges via the “Jobs Rebuild America” initiative which will funnel $70 million dollars (public and private) into America’s cities targeting existing and emerging grassroots organizations that provide critical job training and placement for undereducated and long-term unemployed people.
Although NUL’s focus is on closing the persistent unemployment gaps, Morial acknowledges that the fight for racial equality still requires emphases on education. He is “excited about the president’s proposal for the largest expansion of federal support for early child hood education.” According to Morial, “We need to do a lot more in urban communities to support those schools – they need more resources.”
TheGrio also reached out to Congressman Chaka Fattah for comments. He declined but directed us to a press release that details new legislation that he and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand plan on introducing. The Urban Jobs Act will connect “at-risk city youth with job opportunities.” Again, this effort targets the most critical demographic for long term unemployment, and with the summer right around the corner, the timing of this legislation suggests the now common knowledge that summertime and youth unemployment can have disastrous effects in inner city America.
This report, like so much of the data that we have about inequality in this era of black exceptionalism, reminds us that black success can sometimes render invisible black suffering. According to Morial: “We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Scholars LLC, an association of hip-hop generation scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of hip-hop, urban and youth cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson