Candidates ignoring blacks, study says Urban League says blacks' plight is worse.

January 21, 1992|By Knight-Ridder

WASHINGTON -- At a time of economic despair for many black Americans, the civil rights and economic concerns of African Americans have been virtually ignored in the 1992 presidential race, according to a new report by the National Urban League.

The civil rights group's 17th annual assessment of "The State of Black America," to be released today, concludes that problems in housing, the economy and education have deepened for black Americans, according to researchers who prepared it.

The report aims its harshest criticism at the racial rhetoric of politicians and their lack of commitment to civil rights.

"Demagogues, bigots, and political chameleons of both major political parties fan the flame of divisiveness by using code words like 'crime in the streets,' 'welfare mothers,' and 'quotas,' " Bernard Watson, president of the William Penn Foundation, a Philadelphia philanthropic agency, writes in the report.

Urban League President John Jacob was expected at a news conference to urge the presidential candidates to avoid race-baiting and to include black Americans in their focus on the economic downturn.

Thus far, the candidates don't seem to be listening. Economist Julianne Malveaux, a member of the National Citizens Commission on African-American Education, says in the report, "Issues of African-American parity have receded to the policy sidelines."

With politicians in both major parties courting middle-income voters, there has been plenty of talk about middle-income tax cuts but little about lifting up the poor, the report was expected to note, and much debate about health care for the uninsured but little about help for the crumbling inner cities.

The lack of an urban political agenda -- more than 57 percent of blacks live in central cities -- comes despite some grim indicators of the status of poor, black Americans.

Last month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington research organization, reported that 40 states had cut or frozen the main cash aid program for poor families, Aid to Families With Dependent Children. And the U.S. Conference of Mayors said the number of homeless and hungry people seeking emergency help in the nation's major cities had increased sharply.

But with Jesse Jackson sitting out the campaign, Ms. Malveaux said, "it is not likely that any of the Democratic contenders will make civil rights and parity a central part of their 1992 agenda."

Moreover, she said, "It is clear that President George Bush, he of the 'Willie Horton ad' and the 'quota bill' description of the Civil Rights Act of 1992, will continue using racial rhetoric to score political points."

In the economic section of the report, David Swinton, professor of economics at Jackson State University in Mississippi, said that "for two decades, there has been no consistent progress in improving the relative position of the African-American population as a whole."

He said the economic data "once again reveal that blacks continue to have low current incomes, high rates of poverty, low participation in the higher-income classes, and low labor market status."

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