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Three ways to fix the ‘State of Black America’…

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( The National Urban League today released its annual “State Of Black America” report. Such a report should be done, as a way to annually assess our progress and challenges. However, the “State Of Black America” report would be much more valuable if there was a paradigm shift in three areas:

1. The report obsessively focuses on whites. The Equality Index compares black Americans to a white American benchmark, and thus equates whiteness with normality. In a first for the NUL, this year’s report even has a Hispanic-white index (why is the NUL diluting its mission?). However, many statistics on white Americans aren’t good either. For example, would we be satisfied if our out-of-wedlock birth rate was the 33 percent white rate versus 70 percent? I’d argue that even 33 percent is still too high, given that out-of-wedlock birth rate statistics are connected with issues such as educational attainment, crime, and health. Statistics should be too high or too low for black Americans, because of its impact on us and not because of what whites do or don’t do.

As an alternative, the report could compare today’s generation to previous generations of black folks. It is also ironic that even though the report regularly mentions NUL’s 100th anniversary and the report itself has been done since the 1970s, no in-depth comparison of this sort was done. However, such a framework would capture black America’s progress over time (which tends to get glossed over in NUL’s annual reports), any areas where we have backslid, and remaining areas of challenge.

2. It compares apples and oranges. The NUL lists the black-white Equality Index at 71.8 percent, a slight increase from last year’s revised figure of 71.2 percent. However, the report across several categories fails to control for a key variable: the high percentage of single-mother households in black America. This variable results in disproportionate poverty and influences much of the health, education, home ownership and other statistics that NUL highlights in its report. Nearly one out of every three black households (29 percent) is headed by a single woman, the highest percentage of female-headed households in the U.S. Meanwhile, married-couple households are 28.5 percent of black households. In the most recent U.S. Census figures, 35.3 percent of black single-mother families are poor. For black married families, it’s only 6.9 percent. Single-mother households and a low marriage rate are hurting our progress, yet both issues are virtually absent in the NUL’s report.

If the NUL is going to do cross-racial comparisons, then it must compare apples with apples. For example, NUL states that the median black household earns 62 percent of what the median white household earns. Yet the median black married-couple family household income ($65,169) is 85 percent of median white married-couple family household income ($76,580). Alternatively, median black single-mother household income ($25,958) is 75 percent of median white single-mother household income ($34, 409). There is certainly room for improvement (and this income difference could be due to career path chosen, racism, or both and does not control for educational background), but “economic injustice” is not nowhere as bad as the NUL claims.

3. Government as messiah to solve black America’s challenges, which diminishes black empowerment. All six ideas that the NUL lists in its plan for job creation – funding direct job creation, expand the Small Business Administration’s Community Express Loan Program, expand hiring of housing counselors across the nation, expanding the youth summer jobs program, green empowerment zones, and creating 100 urban jobs academies – are Big Government programs. Not a single idea puts any responsibility on black America to collectively make better life choices and/or launch private initiatives to improve our communities.

The report cites the NUL’s “I Am Empowered” campaign. Yet instead of empowerment, the NUL report emphasizes dependency. With a combined GDP of close to $1 trillion – which would be the world’s 15th largest economy on its own – black Americans do not need government to save us. We must build upon our strengths (e.g., our combined GDP, our high philanthropy rate, the civic engagement rate cited in the NUL report) to address our challenges.

The National Urban League needs to have more confidence in black ability to solve our own challenges, instead of the government as savior approach. Our key challenges go beyond political solutions, and will persist regardless of who is in political office. A key place to start a paradigm shift is with this annual report, with a goal toward calling for mass black action to improve our schools, maintain safer streets, and have vibrant black business districts across America.

Written By Shamara Riley

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