Scott Rudder (center) takes a welding class at Chicago's Dawson Technical Institute in hopes that his new skills will help him land a job.
Scott Rudder (center) takes a welding class at Chicago's Dawson Technical Institute in hopes that his new skills will help him land a job. Cheryl Corley/NPR
In Washington, Congress has passed long-debated health care legislation and an economic stimulus bill. But the National Urban League says that's not enough for black Americans grappling with the worst recession in decades.
Now the group, with its annual report, "The State of Black America," is pushing for jobs specifically targeting urban areas with high unemployment.
A Turning Point?
The Urban League's report, which was released Wednesday, compares the relative status of blacks and whites in five areas: economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement. This year, it also compared the well-being of Hispanics and whites.
League President Marc Morial says black American voters turned out in huge numbers for the election of President Obama. But still, he says, black America is at a pivotal point.
"We're at a time of crossroads, because the election of the president, the majority in Congress, gives us hope that they've got the kind of resolve to take the steps necessary," Morial says.
Steps, Morial says, to further address a crushing economic downturn.
|Median Household Income in Real Dollars (2008)
|Percent of population unemployed (2009)
|Percent of population without health insurance (2008)
|Percent of population 25 and older with high school diploma (2008)
"It's a crisis because the economy has caused great job losses, loss of homes, and there's a great deal of misery and hemorrhaging out there when it comes to the economy," Morial says.
Unemployment for blacks last month was nearly twice that for whites at about 16 percent, and blacks and Hispanics still lag substantially behind whites in homeownership. The league report also says that blacks and Hispanics are more than three times as likely as whites to be poor.
Job Training As An Investment
In a classroom at Chicago's Dawson Technical Institute, a group of young men and one woman watch an instructor cut metal with a torch as they learn welding techniques. The school is located in a South Side neighborhood where unemployment runs at about 25 percent.
Robert Barnett of the Chicago Urban League says this is a joint program to help train people for jobs.
"Even though I know there's a real bleak outlook right now in terms of most of the apprenticeships and the construction industry, we're filling a pipeline," he says.
Barnett says many people in the trades are set to retire, and these young trainees could replace them. It's that sort of targeted investment that the National Urban League says must be a priority.
"A lot of people I know are really looking hard for jobs," says 33-year-old Scott Rudder, who is a student in the welding class. "It's just not that easy out here. And I think furthering my skills and getting another trade to heighten my chances of finding employment was the right move."
The Urban League recommends $150 billion be spent to create 3 million jobs directly in neighborhoods that need them most. It also says summer youth programs should be expanded.
Fixing Health Care
Another key issue for the Urban League is addressing ongoing racial disparities in health care between blacks and whites. According to the report, 19 percent of black Americans lack health coverage, compared with about 11 percent for whites. Among Hispanics, uninsured rates top 30 percent.
That's why 46-year-old Tracy Carwell, who is black and suffers from diabetes, says she's thankful the health care bill passed. "I'm hoping that it allows for people such as myself, who are not 65 years of age — it allows for us to get health care where we need it," she says.
The Urban League applauded the passage of the health care bill, but it does not consider it a panacea. The group recommends that there be what it calls an alternative public option.
In the meantime, while some critics have said that Obama should create a black agenda to address more directly the problems facing black Americans, Morial disagrees.
"The president doesn't need a black agenda and a white agenda," he says. "He doesn't need an agenda in every pocket. He needs one comprehensive agenda. So inclusiveness is the watchword."
Morial and other black leaders met with the president last month, and hope that the numbers in next year's report will be better.