Urban League Responds To Disparities Of 'Black America' Report

Host Michel Martin speaks with Marc Morial President and CEO of the National Urban League. The group recently released its annual State of Black America report. Morial discusses the organization's focus on jobs and the inclusion of Latinos in their 2010 report.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

My thanks to my colleague Allison Keyes for filling in last week.

Coming up, silence is not golden to those of us in radio land. But in a few minutes we'll learn more about those who seek silence for spiritual reasons. And the first night of Passover will be celebrated tonight. We'll have a Passover primer.

But first, we want to talk more about jobs and the economy, or rather, the ongoing need for job growth. The National Urban League just issued its annual State of Black America Report and focused on the dire employment picture among black Americans.

And for the first time, the civil rights group also looked at the state of Latinos in the U.S. We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called on National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial. He's with us now from New York. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us, or welcome back, I should say.

Mr. MARC MORIAL (President and CEO, National Urban League): Great. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: For the first time, as I mentioned, the report also includes in depth information about Latinos. Why did you decide to include this?

Mr. MORIAL: You know, over the last half a dozen years, as we've done this report, each and every year, questions have come from the media and other interested citizens about the Latino community and how they would index. So we decided, really, in response to popular demand to include a Hispanic index. And that index demonstrates why disparities between whites and Hispanics, as there are wide disparities between blacks and whites in America.

The Hispanic index shows Hispanics fit slightly better than African-Americans when compared to whites. But the point is is that there's large disparities when it comes to income and education and health in this nation.

MARTIN: Is your decision to do this, in part, political or just informational? And the reason I ask is that much has been made of the fact that Latinos are now the largest minority group in the United States. Is part of your intention here to suggest a common cause between those groups?

Mr. MORIAL: I think it's really informational. I think it's informational. I think it's so important that because Latinos are a large part of the population in this great interest that we make that contribution to sort of the discussion. Our index, which we've done is the only one of its type that really looks at hard numbers of the condition of blacks and compare it to white. So it wasn't difficult for us to do Hispanics.

But I would add one sort of caution or reservational footnote if you will, and that is that the data that is available for blacks and whites, the same data is not completely available for Hispanics. So, the Hispanic index is a little bit slightly different than the black, white index. But we've sort of made some allowances to try to get as clear a comparison as possible.

So I think it's important that as the nation changes, that an organization like ours, about 20 percent of the people we're serving in our job training and afterschool programs now are Latino. We still are a historic African-American civil rights organization. But in many cases the urban communities that we serve are changing and populations are diverse in a way that was unexpected, perhaps 40 years ago.

MARTIN: Well, you make an important point, the Census Bureau often reminds us that Hispanics can be of either race or any race. So it is an important point. But speaking of the hard numbers, this has been much in the news, but it's the still the subject of much discussion: the unemployment rate among African-Americans stands at almost twice the rate for whites. It's higher for Latinos than for whites, but not quite as high as for African-Americans. Why do you think that is?

Mr. MORIAL: I think, you know, we look at, really, I think two factors. One is the continuation of employment discrimination in many jobs and in many places across America, that's one component. The second component is that people with less education tend to have higher unemployment levels regardless of race. So, people without high school, people with only high school have higher unemployment rates in both good and bad times, than people that have college degrees or post-graduate degrees.

So, the continuation of lower educational attainment levels amongst African-Americans also contributes to this disparity. What's interesting is is that the 2-to-1 ratio is sort of the way it's remained mostly for the last 40 or so years, 45 or so years. With one slight deviating point, and that was in the late '90s during the Clinton administration when the economy was growing, the black unemployment rate actually went down to about seven percent.

So, we've had this 2-to-1 ratio between the black unemployment rate and the white unemployment rate throughout the years. The other thing that's so, you know, I think interesting is that the unemployment rate in the way we measure it doesn't really capture everyone who's without a job. There are some people who have not looked for a job. They have not filed a job application. They're not typically counted in the traditional unemployment rate. So I think these numbers of 15, 16 percent in the black community are in all likelihood higher, probably up to 20, and some communities even higher than 20. And in the white community probably higher than the 8.5 to 9 percent, which is being reported.

MARTIN: I'm going to - I want to save some time at the end to talk about what the Urban League and you, in particular, would like to do about those numbers. But before we do that, I just want to mention that if you're listening - that if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. The group has issued its annual report on the state of black America. The report includes information about the state of Latinos for the first time.

But before we go on to the Urban League's action plan, I want to ask you about this dust up over whether President Obama needs to have a so-called black agenda. Of course you're aware that the broadcast personality Tavis Smiley and the Reverend Al Sharpton got into a verbal confrontation, or I should say a series of verbal confrontations over this after a meeting that you, NAACP president Ben Jealous and the Reverend Sharpton had at the White House. And that Tavis suggested that you all were giving him a pass, essentially, and not insisting that he have a black focused agenda.

Mr. MORIAL: Yeah, I think we have a lot of respect for Tavis. I think Tavis distorted the meeting, because I don't think he talked to Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton or I about what happened at the meeting, nor he may have been reacting to one or two quotes in the media. And so while I respect him, I thought he distorted the meeting.

Here's how I view it: the president should have an agenda that includes the needs of the African-American community, period. Black Americans should have policies and agenda items that we embrace and that we promote. And the purpose of the meeting with President Obama was about black unemployment. And the more specific purpose of the meeting was to present the Urban League's six-point jobs plan and discuss components of it, which are targeted at the black unemployment problem, but targeted more specifically at those parts of the nation where the unemployment rate is high.

They happen to be disproportionally African-American, but not exclusively African-American. So I thought that some of the comments sort of distorted the meeting. Indeed Tavis himself has had the compact which, quote, "was a proposed agenda." The National Urban League had its opportunity compact which, quote, "was an agenda to confront the challenges of black America."

So I think we shouldn't have a false intellectual debate about this. At the end of the day, I think we all agree that any jobs plan has to have a targeted component to it so that it so that it addresses the deep problems of unemployment that affect black America. What you call it and how you position it is, I think, something that many of us understand and understand well, and that is that it needs to be targeted in areas where the unemployment rates are high, where the poverty rates are high. Those are not only black communities, but they're disproportionately black.

MARTIN: Well, is your objection to that that it's bad politics or bad policy?

Mr. MORIAL: What is that?

MARTIN: To focus on, I would say, have a black agenda, per se. I mean, you've said several times that you don't think you should have separate agendas.

Mr. MORIAL: Because I don't want African-Americans to be marginalized by this president or by any president, not that this president would. Where you have a, quote, "black agenda," a, quote, "Jewish agenda," a, quote, "Polish agenda," a, quote, "Italian agenda," where what a president seeks to do is to have a series of separate agendas.

I think that what a president should have is an agenda for the nation that includes the specific needs of America's most vulnerable citizens that targets the needs. And the idea of targeting is nothing new. You had targeted economic policies under the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. You had targeted policies with the empowerment zones under the Clinton administration, indeed, if you go all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt. He had targeted policies for urban communities where the unemployment rates are high.

So, you know, I don't what I push back on is a discussion of semantics. And what I want to do is have a discussion of what the policies ought to be and what steps should the president take in order to what steps should the Congress take in order to confront and alleviate the deep problem of unemployment amongst black Americans.

MARTIN: Well, in the minute and a half we have left, tell us what some of those steps should be that you think particularly those that differ from what the president's already proposed.

Mr. MORIAL: Six point jobs plan that the Urban League has advanced: direct job creation through cities, summer jobs, urban jobs academies to train the unemployed for construction, green, broadband jobs and the like. Number four, expand small business lending, but reduce the interest rate to one percent through the SBA. Green empowerment zones. Those are the ideas. People who want to learn more about our plan, go to Iamempowered.com.

What I can say today is that both Congressmen George Miller and Congressman Bobby Rush as of this date, within the last 10 days to two weeks, have endorsed bills in the House of Representatives, which include some of the provisions that are contained in our plan. We do need targeting to confront this problem and the Urban League's going to continue to push that kind of targeting. And we welcome people and encourage people to support our efforts at Iamempowered.com.

MARTIN: Well, we hope that you'll keep us posed on these things...

Mr. MORIAL: We certainly will.

MARTIN: ...and also this issue as it moves forward. This issue, as you mentioned, of unemployment as one that's affecting many, many millions of Americans. So, we appreciate your input on that.

Mr. MORIAL: Appreciate you and appreciate your time.

MARTIN: All right, thank you, Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He joined us from his office in New York. Marc Morial, thanks once again.

Mr. MORIAL: Thanks so much.

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