The state of the African-American community is the same across the country—low graduation rates coupled with high incarceration and unemployment rates. According to the National Urban League’s State of Black Pittsburgh, the recent recession has exacerbated these numbers with homeownership rates taking an extreme dip and many areas being hard-pressed to find any sign of recovery.
“The gap between the races is very, very stubborn. The housing crisis is affecting everyone, but it is disproportionately affecting the Black community,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial. “We are in the front lines, working and fighting against that.”
Each year the Urban League publishes The State of Black America, a report that looks at economics, education, health, civic engagement and social justice in the Black community. The annual report, published last March, offers several recommendations as well as an account of how the Urban League works to reverse disparities.
“We’ve increased the number of cases we’ve taken over the past two years so we’re out here fighting and working and providing direct services to people,” Morial said. “While there’s a lot of talk and a lot of studying, the concerted initiatives and funding has been hard to come by. We need substantial reform when it comes to the disparities that exist.”
After seven months since the report was published, Morial said improvements have been slow and few. This was also demonstrated in the Pittsburgh branch of the Urban League’s annual publication released at the beginning of November.
“I don’t see any measurable improvement and all we can hope is we can get through this recession. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it,” Morial said. “When it comes to improvement, one of the things I’m concerned about is that any improvement doesn’t bypass the inner-city. Some are far worse off than others, but I don’t think any city is exempt.”
For Pittsburgh and the country at-large, the biggest problem identified is what Morial refers to as the cycle of low graduation rates and high incarceration rates. While less than 47 percent of Black males graduate from high school, Black males outnumber White males six times over in incarceration rates, the report said.
“Those who drop out of junior school and high school are far more likely to go to jail,” Morial said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. If we raise the graduation rates significantly I think we’re going to see a decrease in the incarceration rates.”
Morial said an unequal justice system is also part of the problem as he sees disparities in the sentencing of Black and White Americans. The Urban League tries to help those who have been incarcerated through its workforce development division after they are released.
“One of our primary roles is trying to help those who have returned from prison to get jobs. A good bit of our work in job training is focused on Black men,” Morial said. “I would say we don’t do enough in that area, but we probably do more than anyone.”
Mirroring the local report, Morial said Black males play a huge role in the problems of the African-American community. He said the road to recovery requires that men reclaim a leadership role in their families.
“What we see embodied in our Black males is some of our greatest successes but also some of our biggest problems. It’s a tale of two cities,” Morial said. “We’ve got to help fathers reconnect with their families.”