The much-heralded government social programs created in the 1960s have done little for blacks during the 1970s, says the National Urban League in a study released this week.
The report, titled "Black Progress? Black Regression!!" devotes much of its 94 pages to an argument that blacks are no better off today than they were a decade ago.
Rather than calling for more government help, however, a brief concluding section questions the value of existing social programs.It instead suggests "the development approach -- expanded black business ownership and community control -- [as] a good candidate for solving the longstanding problem of racial inequality."
The report contains surprisingly sharp questioning of government assistance efforts for a group that once fought long and hard to implement them.
"We must ask whether or not some of the [conservative] opposition [to those assistance programs] is legtimate," says the study. It warns that "many solutions result in dependence, rather than independence," and adds, "we ought to rethink the strategy for achieving equal opportunity."
Some conservatives have portrayed the report as a significant break with traditional liberal programs, noting a similarity between its tone and remarks by Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in a speech this week to the league's convention, where the report was released.
Reagan said Tuesday the key to a better life for blacks is "jobs, jobs, jobs." He urged the creation of "enterprise zones" in depressed urban areas, where local officials would have authority to relax government regulations to encourage business development.
"We must adopt the goal of making black Americans more economically independent, through means of black enterprise and lasting, meaningful jobs in the private sector," Reagan said.
But the league is not about to abandon support for affirmative action and other programs intended to help blacks, says the official who supervised the report.
Such programs must remain in place until "every black person in this country can feel free of racism," said Maudine R. Cooper, vice president of the league's Washington operations office. As long as there is injustice, she said, "then we need those programs."
Cooper said she hopes the study will prompt a league-organized review of government social programs by a group of experts from around the country. Such a review, not yet authorized by the Urban League's national leadership, could produce recommendations on how the programs could be made more effective, she said.
"I'm not saying there is a program of questionable value," Cooper said. "I think all programs should be examined to see whether they have value."
Cooper said government social programs often fail because legislators want funding for their own districts, leaving too little for the areas that most sorely need funds. "The pie is getting divided more thinly, but it's not getting any larger."
The Washington office reports annually to the Urban League convention. The focus of this year's study was prompted by "frustration" among those who work with Congress. Cooper said -- "a feeling that things aren't going to happen the way we wanted them to happen."
Recent rioting in Miami's Liberty City and in Chattanooga, Tenn., have boosted growing disillusionment with government-sponsored efforts to assure black equality, Cooper said.
"The mood of blacks," states the report, "has thus changed from one of optimism to frustration, despair and anger as the promises of the 1960s movement have failed to materialize."
Exploring the reasons for that failure, the study concludes that "conservatives and other protectors of the status quo [now] . . . appear to be the dominant force in our society."
But the report also embraces the spreading economic explanation of the black plight and suggests that enactment and enforcement of civil rights laws may not be the best way to ensure fair treatment. "The biggest source of black inequality is the failure of blacks to earn as much income as whites from work or from ownership of property," says the study. "Improvement in the relative well-being of the black population thus requires improvement in the economic position of blacks."
The study says that there is not a single black-owned firm among the nation's 1,000 largest companies.
Although government programs helped blacks substantially in the 1960s, the study concludes, progress has stalled. "It is important for the movement to regain the offensive and it seems that this cannot be done without a change in tactics."