State of Black America

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"BLACK AMERICA is at a tipping point," said National Urban League President Marc H. Morial in releasing the organization's annual "State of Black America" report on Tuesday. "We can celebrate a great deal of success, but we have a number of struggles to address." Successes include Fortune 100 chief executives, a candidate for president with widespread financial and popular support, and an increasing presence in the middle class. But the struggles, particularly for black men, require a sense of urgency not only from government but also from African Americans themselves.

According to the State of Black America, "African American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males and make only 75 percent as much a year. They're nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, and their average jail sentences are 10 months longer than those of white men [for the same offenses]. In addition, young black males between the ages of 15 and 34 years are nine times more likely to die of homicide than their white counterparts and nearly seven times as likely to suffer from AIDS."

Mr. Morial has presented five recommendations worthy of debate, proposals that are rooted in education and that seem to strike a balance between government intervention and community involvement.

Topping his agenda is universal childhood education through public and private schools, starting at age 3. We'd worry about a new entitlement open to everyone regardless of income; it would seem logical to target preschool education funded with public dollars for those who most need help. As a provider of Head Start and other early childhood education programs throughout the country, the Ur ban League stands to benefit. Still, there is no doubt that this would be a worthy investment. Head Start has a proven track record, and Congress is considering legislation to expand eligibility and increase funding. Every effort should be made to target the program's expansion to those who need it.

The Urban League's report calls for "greater experimentation with all-male schools and longer school days." While we have some questions about single-sex education, parents must have more choice in their children's education. Having more second-chance programs for high school dropouts and ex-offenders would benefit both participants and society.

A call for the restoration of the federal summer jobs program -- "an opportunity for easy bipartisanship," Mr. Morial told us -- is more problematic. Dedicated funding for summer jobs disappeared in 2000 when Congress shifted federal dollars to year-round employment and training programs for young people. A concerted effort should be made to foster public-private partnerships that offer a combination of summer and year-round opportunities for employment that builds skills.

The fifth recommendation is key: increased parental involvement. Without parents or guardians drilling into their children the importance of graduating from high school and college, the impressive gains made by African Americans over the past 40 years will continue to be tempered by the dire statistics presented Tuesday.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company