The National Urban League, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has produced an annual State of Black America (SOBA) report for one-third of its existence. At a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the organization released its 34th SOBA, and similarities to the inaugural report were striking. "We're facing many of the very same issues," said Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson, vice president of research at the Urban League's Policy Institute, after she stood at the podium and read aloud a section of the 1976 SOBA. "And the challenges and recommendations and solutions continue to be the same."
In 1976, Marc H. Morial wasn't yet president and CEO of the Urban League; this is the seventh report since his tenure began in 1993. But he said there's definitely a familiar feel to conditions now and then. "There is a sense of déjà vu, particularly back in 1975 when the economy dipped and declined," he said. "But there was vibrant economic progress in the '90s when the economy expanded and black unemployment went down to 7 percent. Those experiences tell us that we can build a strong economy with targeted job creation."
The target population for job creation isn't African Americans, per se. It isn't Hispanics, either, though they're included in the Urban League's "Equality Index" for the first time because Morial said readers have always asked for comparable data. (He added that Hispanics represent about 25 percent of the people who receive services from the Urban League.) But instead of targeting African Americans, Hispanics or any particular group for intensive job creation, the Urban League calls for the government to spend $168 billion over two years to generate jobs in communities facing chronic unemployment—which often happen to be largely black and Hispanic. Black unemployment was 14.8 percent in 2009, compared to 8.5 percent for whites; Hispanic unemployment was 12.1 percent.
Morial and other Urban League officials left the press conference and headed to Capitol Hill, where they planned to discuss the 2010 SOBA with lawmakers and to lobby for the organization's "Plan for Creating Jobs." The plan encompasses six points: direct job creation; expansion of the Small Business Administration's loan program; the creation of green empowerment zones; expanded hiring of housing counselors nationwide; expanded summer jobs program for youths; and the creation of urban jobs academies.
"Congress has passed a number of job bills that are an excellent step in the right direction," Morial said. "But this team needs not a bunt, but a home run. It needs not a field goal, but a touchdown. It needs not to hold hands, but an embrace. Our six-point job plan will put people back to work." Albeit, not long-term. He acknowledged that these jobs would be temporary, lasting until the money ran out, but "temporary jobs are necessary until the private sector economy rebounds," he said. "Long-term impact comes from building the green economy, broadband, infrastructure, high-speed rail, and rebuilding parks and public buildings. There are a wide variety of things that have to be done long-term, including fixing our broken education system."
Morial knows critics will argue that there's no money for the Urban League's plan. He knows they'll point to the "Local Jobs for America Act," a bill introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.,—which Morial supports—that calls for $100 billion over the next two years to avoid mass layoffs of city workers, teachers and other local public employees across the country. But Morial said "Main Street" deserves the type of bailout enjoyed by Wall Street, and he suggests looking there first. "The best way to finance direct job creation is by using TARP," he said. "That was a $750 billion authorization but only $250 billion has been spent. Those monies should be redeployed to confront the issue of unemployment."
"I think the president is very sensitive to the facts and expressed a great deal of concern about unemployment and joblessness and how it affects urban communities," Morial said. "I'm sure our meetings and discussions will lead to concrete steps being taken. I don't think you've seen the last of these. We'll continue to offer our perspective and policy advice. I'm never going to be satisfied until employment is down to 4 percent.
"Now is the time for Washington and America to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. "Jobs, jobs, jobs."
Deron Snyder is a regular contributor to The Root.