The 2017 “State of Black America” report digs deep into the quality of black life and proposes ways to improve it.
Black America is still far from equal with white America, a new report shows ― and with Donald Trump as president, the stakes are higher and the consequences more dire for communities of color across the country.
On Tuesday, the National Urban League released their annual “State of Black America” report ― which quantifies the quality of life of black Americans each year compared to that of whites ― and found that black America is just 72.3 percent equal to white America. The Hispanic index was also measured, and landed slightly higher at 78.4 percent. This percentage reflects the “equality index,” which measures the share of the whole pie that black Americans get and considers the areas of economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement.
This year’s equality index of black America increased only incrementally compared to last year’s results. The 2016 equality index stood at 72.2 percent, and this year’s report shows that despite an increase of less than 1 percentage point across the five categories, the largest jump in this year’s index was in the area of education. That number went from 77.4 to 78.2 percent as a result of multiple factors, including a higher percentage of African Americans gaining associate degrees and a decline in high school dropout rates.
Smaller increases were seen in the areas of health (from 79.4 to 80 percent) and economics (56.2 to 56.5 percent) and no change was noted in the civic engagement index (100.6 percent).
“While the social justice index (from 60.9% to 57.4%) declined sharply, this change should be interpreted with caution because most of the difference is the result of a change in how one of the major data points is reported,” the study states, referencing a change in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ reporting.
The report also ranks unemployment and income inequality across the country’s metropolitan areas. It found Milwaukee-Waukesha-West in Wisconsin was this year’s least equal metro area (Wisconsin also ranks as the worst state for black Americans) and that Toledo, Ohio, has the highest black unemployment rate at 20.7 percent. Meanwhile, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area in California kept its top ranking when it comes to black-white income equality, and the highest median income for black households was in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area of Washington, D.C., at $68,054.
National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial believes that while the improvement black America has made in the last year may be minimal, it still matters. Furthermore, he contends that black America needs protection from Trump and members of his administration, who he says are a threat to any potential for progress across multiple areas.
“It is impossible to discuss the state of Black America in 2017 without addressing the shift of power and priorities in Washington,” Morial wrote in a public letter published as part of the report. He cited the areas of progress black America made under former President Barack Obama ― for which the Urban League awarded the Obama administration the second-highest rating of “Excellent” in its first presidential scorecard. While most reviews of Obama’s handling of America’s race relations revolve mostly around his shortcomings, Morial focused on the areas where Obama had a significant impact.
“During the Obama era, the economy added 15 million new jobs, the black unemployment rate dropped and the high school graduation rate for African Americans soared,” Morial wrote. “Now that progress, and much more, is threatened.”
Morial, who is a former mayor of New Orleans, painted a clear picture of the potential devastation Trump and his administration could bring upon all vulnerable Americans. He also highlighted the uptick in hate crimes since Trump assumed the presidency and how his dangerous and discriminatory ideas for governance ― as well as those from officials who have expressed white nationalist views ― could impact people of color.
“Recent proposals before Congress would shift desperately needed resources away from underfunded public schools toward our heavily-invested-in military,” Morial wrote. “The federal budget currently under consideration would slash the budget of the Departments of Health, Education, Housing, and Labor — a blueprint for a sick, uneducated, homeless and unemployed America. Suggested double-digit cuts, or the outright elimination of funding for vital programs and services, would devastate already vulnerable citizens and working families.”
Morial also made specific mention of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and took aim at his recent call for reviews of important consent decrees that were issued by the Department of Justice under Obama to help provide oversight of police departments that were found to have racist and abusive practices. Sessions, however, expressed more concern that the legal agreements “undermine respect for law enforcement” and “has ordered a review of all federal reform initiatives, signaling a retreat on common sense police reform that endorses constitutional policing in all our communities,” the report reads.
“We believe he must continue to enforce these vital consent decrees,” it continues.
The National Urban League proposes the Main Street Marshall Plan, a comprehensive guide that helps address the country’s issues with inequality. It recommends a $4 trillion investment over a 10-year period in communities in need, with a plan designed to improve both infrastructure and human development in these areas.
The plan introduces strategies for resolving disparities in education, employment, the economy, housing and health, such as implementing a living wage of $15 and increasing federal funding of public schools.
The National Urban League acknowledges that there is still much work to be done to achieve racial equality, but also expresses that it firmly understands that rolling back on even small gains is a step in the wrong direction.
The information in this year’s release is presented to politicians like Reps. Karen Bass (D-Ca.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), as well as to influencers like Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Rye and Symone Sanders ― all of whom will be joining journalist Roland Martin for a special town hall airing on TV ONE on Tuesday to discuss details in the report.
“The National Urban League is resolute,” Morial wrote. “We will protect our progress.”