Urban League report finds growing racial disparities

The income and home ownership gap between minorities and whites continued to grow last year as African Americans and Hispanics lost more ground to the nation’s stagnant economy, the National Urban League said in a new report released Thursday.

The findings — which track with other reports this year — come in the civil rights organization’s annual “State of Black America” book. It evaluates and analyzes government data, public polls and other metrics in an attempt to measure equality on a range of issues.

“This recession has caused an exacerbation of the already large wealth gap in this country,” said Urban League President Marc Morial. “Candidly, these are very difficult and tough times.”

Morial and his group are in Washington this week for the Urban League’s annual legislative conference, where the group will lobby against budget cuts proposed by both the White House and House Republicans. Morial called proposed cuts to Head Start, Meals on Wheels and other social programs “mean spirited and reckless.”

Both House Republicans and members of the Obama administration have said budget cuts are necessary to lower the nation’s ballooning deficit — and politicians from both parties want to trim social programs.

The Urban League’s annual report, which was first published in the late 1970s, focuses on the potential effect of those proposed budget cuts, suggesting they would exacerbate the racial disparities.

In the past 30 years, the gaps between whites and minorities have narrowed on many measures. But last year, amid the national housing crisis, the Urban League points out that mortgage application denial rates for African Americans rose by 3.2 percentage points, while they barely budged for whites.

Blacks also suffered a steeper decline in household wealth than whites. In 2009, African-American families held $2,172 in household wealth compared with $97,862 for their white counterparts, according to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute cited in the report. In 2007, net worth was $148,550 for whites and $9,620 for blacks. Data for Asians and Hispanics are not included in the estimates.

Morial and his group have offered a range of ideas, such as restoring funding for youth summer jobs programs and expanding small business lending, that are not likely to gain traction on Capitol Hill amid the budget debate.

“A dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish, and that’s what we’re doing,” said syndicated radio show host Warren Ballentine, who was in town for discussions at the Urban League conference. “We’re wishing right now.”

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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