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Urban League Report Outlines Plight, Progress in ‘State of Black America’ – Part 2

Approximately 4,810 Black males per 100,000 are incarcerated compared to 549 per 100,000 White males. The disparity is drastically wider for African-American females at 349… Approximately 4,810 Black males per 100,000 are incarcerated compared to 549 per 100,000 White males. The disparity is drastically wider for African-American females at 349 per 100,000, compared to 66 per 100,000 for White women, he writes.

“African-Americans account for 13 percent of the nation’s drug users, but 35 percent of drug arrests and 53 percent of drug convictions. Many of these drug offenders are unable to retain adequate legal counsel, have substance abuse addictions, limited vocational skills and employment histories, and some lack adequate literacy skills,” Lanier writes.

Even Blacks who are not behind bars are suffering, the report observes. The impact of the 1996 “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” the welfare reform bill, all but ended the social contract to assist the poor, established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” writes Walter Stafford, professor of public policy at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. Essentially, “The New Deal” was a series of programs developed between 1933 and 1939 to help the poor recover from a national economic depression.

The 1996 welfare reform, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, reduced cash aid to mothers who headed households with children (Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC) from $5 million in 1996 to $2.1 million in 2001. It was replaced with “Temporary Aid to Needy Families [TANF],” providing little emphasis on education and job training generally needed for higher paying jobs.

Federal regulations stipulate that job training programs must end within three months. Significantly, most states do not allow recipients of AFDC or TANF to receive funds while attending college.

Still, for those wanting higher education, there is hope in the June 23 Supreme Court decision on affirmative action in the University of Michigan law school case. The decision upheld the court’s 1978 “Bakke” ruling, which allows race to be considered among many factors evaluating college applicants.

“There’s no question that the Bakke decision’s central element—the continued use of affirmative action—has served America well in expanding opportunity,” writes former NUL President Hugh Price in a special section on affirmative action. “It must be allowed to continue to do so in the years ahead, for we know that in the real world of American society, race still matters to great effect in ways that are both sensational and seemingly picayune.”

It is equally important to stress the strengths and the weaknesses of the Black community, Morial says.

“Fueled by the expansion of opportunity [that] the civil rights victories of the 1960s produced, the number of Black families with stable working-class to middle-class incomes now constitutes more than two-thirds of all African-American families,” Morial writes. “That extraordinary demographic expansion since 1960 is important to keep in mind even as we contemplate the one-third of Black families who remain trapped near or below the poverty line, a condition that brings with it numerous associated problems and obstacles.”

Among the proposals made in the report are:
* Pressuring elected officials to consider alternatives to incarceration and to abolish racially disparate laws;
* Increasing the federal minimum wage, which is $5.15 per hour;
* Establishing community development strategies, including placing a greater focus on job development, expanding day care, offering more suitable housing, bettering schools and reducing crime;
* Adjusting unemployment benefits to accommodate women making the transition from welfare to work and
* Developing more programs that include education as well as work components and allowing sufficient time for the participant to take advantage of each.

“The breadth of vision, and one may say,

August 1, 2003
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