Black group focuses on need for jobs

January 21, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Noting that black America still lags "far behind" society at large, the National Urban League urged President Clinton and Congress yesterday to make creating jobs for poor African-Americans a top priority.

"The crisis of the black family, the violence among our youth and the disintegration of the sense of community are all largely the result of the job shortage that has left African-Americans in a permanent economic Depression," said John E. Jacob, the civil rights group's outgoing president.

But Mr. Jacob also sounded a self-help theme. While they fight to change government policies, he said, blacks must also step up efforts to educate their children, rebuild their communities and stem violence.

"Any group that waits for outside forces to come into their community to lift it up is doomed to be sitting there 20 years later wishing and waiting," said Mr. Jacob, who released the Urban League's 19th annual "The State of Black America" report.

The civil rights leader gave President Clinton a B+ grade for his first year in office, despite what he called "obstacles" such as the budget deficit, fickle Democratic allies in Congress and a weak mandate in the 1992 election.

He praised Mr. Clinton for extending the earned income tax credit, championing handgun control, proposing health care reform and appointing blacks and other minorities to high government posts.

After a dozen years with Republicans in the White House, Mr. Jacob said: "The most important thing this president has done is to put government back into the game as actively addressing social issues."

Reflecting a trend among civil rights groups to look inward for solutions, the Urban League report stressed black "self-development." But Mr. Jacob said government must create an environment in which self-help efforts can succeed. On average, blacks are significantly behind whites in their levels of income, employment and education, the report said. Blacks did close the gap between the races a bit over the past decade.

However, the overall gains made by blacks were sometimes due to advances among women while black men lost ground.

Blacks' median income, for example, increased by 4 percent from 1983 to 1992 after adjusting for inflation. But that was because black women's income jumped by almost 11 percent, while black men's declined by nearly 1 percent.

A larger percentage of black women had completed college in 1991 than black men, reversing the situation of a decade earlier. But both sexes made gains in education.

Scholars who contributed to the report pointed to various black resources -- including community organizations, banks, colleges, churches and consumers -- as capable of spurring change for the better in black America.

African-Americans spend $216 billion a year, but less than $20 billion of that goes to black-owned businesses, said Marcus Alexis, a Northwestern University economics professor. Black businesses can't rely on race loyalty to attract customers, he found.

Like other shoppers, blacks seek quality goods at reasonable prices, Mr. Alexis said. While 61 percent of black consumers consider whether a store treats African-Americans well when deciding where to shop, only 26 percent care if the outlet is black-owned.

William D. Bradford, a finance professor at the University of Maryland College Park, said it might take generations for blacks to eliminate historic inequities.

"The average black family's wealth is less than one-quarter the average white family's wealth," he said. "Twenty years from now, will we have caught up? I don't think so."

Mr. Jacob said the key to improving the state of black America was to "be able to see the power in the resources we do have and to see everything we do in the context of the development of people and community."

Mr. Jacob, 59, is retiring from the National Urban League after 12 years at its helm. He said he hoped a successor would be named by this spring.

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