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Congress has passed long-debated health care legislation and an economic stimulus bill, but the National Urban League says that's not enough for African-Americans grappling with the worst recession in decades. With its annual report titled The State of Black America, the group is pushing for jobs specifically targeting towards African-Americans.
NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: The Urban League's report compares the relative status of blacks and whites in five areas: economics, heath, education, social justice and civic engagement. This year, it also compared the well-being of Hispanics and whites.
League President Marc Morial says African-American voters turned out in huge numbers for the election of President Barack Obama. But still, he says, black America is at a pivotal point.
Mr. MARC MORIAL (President, National Urban League): 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.
CORLEY: Steps, Morial says, to further address a crushing economic downturn.
Mr. MORIAL: 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.
CORLEY: Unemployment for blacks last month was nearly twice that for whites at about 16 percent, and blacks and Latinos still lag substantially behind whites in homeownership. The League report says blacks and Latinos also are more than three times as likely as whites to be poor.
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CORLEY: In a classroom at Chicago's Dawson Technical Institute, a group of young men and one woman are watching 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 Burnette with the Chicago Urban League says this is a joint program to help train people for jobs.
Mr. ROBERT BURNETTE (Chicago Urban League): 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.
CORLEY: Burnette says with many people in the trades set to retire, these young trainees could replace them. It's that sort of targeted investment that the National Urban League says must be a priority.
Thirty-three-year-old Scott Rudder, a student in the welding class, agrees.
Mr. SCOTT RUDDER (Student): A lot of people I know are really looking hard for jobs. It's just not that easy out here. And I think that furthering my skills and getting another trade to heighten my chances of finding employment was the right move.
CORLEY: The League recommends $150 billion be spent to create three million jobs directly in neighborhoods that need them most. It also says summer youth programs should be expanded.
Another key issue for the League is addressing ongoing racial disparities in health care between African-Americans and whites. According to the report, 19 percent of black Americans lack health coverage, nearly twice the level for whites. It's more than 30 percent for Latinos.
That's why 46-year-old Tracy Carwell, who is black and suffers from diabetes, says she's thankful the health care reform bill passed.
Ms. TRACY CARWELL: I'm hoping that it allows for people such as myself, it allows for us to be able to get health care where we need it.
CORLEY: The Urban League applauded the passage of the health care reform bill, but it does not consider it a panacea. It recommends that there be what it calls an alternative public option.
Meantime, while some critics have said President Obama should create a black agenda to address problems African-Americans face more directly, Urban League President Morial disagrees.
Mr. MORIAL: The president doesn't need a black agenda and a white agenda. He doesn't need an agenda in every pocket. He needs one comprehensive agenda. So, inclusiveness is the watchword. That's the watchword.
CORLEY: Morial and other black leaders met with the president last month and hope that the numbers in next year's report will be better.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News.
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