Black Americans Less Optimistic than Whites

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The most recent Pew study shows that black Americans are not as optimistic as their white counterparts. Cheryle Jackson, head of the Chicago Urban League, says there are compelling economic reasons why.


Cheryle Jackson is head of the Chicago Urban League. She says there are compelling economic reasons why black Americans are not as optimistic as whites.

Ms. CHERYLE JACKSON (Head, Chicago Urban League): The fabric of the American dream is made up of mobility. You don't have to be born rich or successful if you can get there by your own hard work. The belief that we can all make ourselves better is what unites us as Americans. But the pathway to success is increasingly obscured or non existent for many African-Americans. We should all be concerned that the Pew Foundation survey shows that African-Americans are less optimistic about the future than they were five years ago. There's good reason for African-Americans to feel that way.

In recent years, as the economy boomed, the medium income of blacks declined as the percentage of white income. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. And most distressingly, African-Americans are slipping out of the middle class. White families pass on wealth. Black families do not.

More and more, one's economic future is largely decided by what zip code one is born into. Urban communities have the worst schools, the fewest jobs and lack commerce and retail. They lack good supermarkets and fresh produce, and they are targets for redlining and predatory lending.

In these kinds of environments, it's no wonder that we see crises like that afflicting to African-American male. The rate of black men and adolescents going to prison is on the rise in an alarming pace. In Illinois, for instance, African-Americans make up 15 percent of the population, but are 63 percent of the inmates. This is why as president of the Chicago Urban League, I recently shifted our focus from our social service model to one on economic development and empowerment in the black community.

The world is changing rapidly beneath our feet. Jobs are going offshore, and here at home, the knowledge economy rules. We know there are certain solutions can work. Entrepreneurs create jobs. Good jobs sustain communities. Solid communities make better schools, safer streets and attract outside investment. And investment feeds and encourages the cycle of more jobs, more businesses and stronger communities.

If America is to remain competitive in a world that is rapidly globalizing, we simply cannot afford to leave 13 percent of our citizens behind. Diversifying our schools and our businesses feeds our creativity and our economic strength. If we don't solve the problem now, we are doomed to be left out of the global race.

BLOCK: Cheryle Jackson is the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

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