The record of black progress in achieving income gains, economic opportunities and educational advancement remains shallow, according to the 13th annual State of Black America report released yesterday by National Urban League President John E. Jacob.
Despite the bleak picture painted by the 238-page report, which consists of 11 studies by leading scholars, Jacob said 1988 presents unique opportunities for blacks and called on blacks to use their leverage in this presidential election year -- the vote -- in bringing change.
"First, the economic uncertainties following the Wall Street crash raise important questions whose resolution will have a profound impact on our prospects," he said. "Second, this is an election year and that offers the opportunity to bring some of our social problems that have been ignored onto center stage."
Jacob said that while many Americans have been riding an economic boom, blacks continued to be plagued by rising levels of poverty and its attendant social problems, precipitated in large part by cuts in programs that serve them.
"The 1980s were a time of increasing black hardship, with inner-city communities decimated by crack and crime, and national policies of withdrawal from efforts to increase opportunities for blacks," Jacob wrote in an overview of 1987.
In addition, Jacob said, the Reagan administration has fostered a climate in which racism has grown.
"It's a baseless charge and it's absolutely not true," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
While the black unemployment rate has fallen to roughly 12 percent from the 15 percent reported by the Urban League last year, Jacob said the real rate hovers around 20 percent when discouraged workers and part-timers are included in the measure. The overall jobless rate stands at 5.8 percent.
In a chapter on the economic status of blacks, David H. Swinton, dean of the School of Business at Jackson State University, reported that the "average median black family income for the 1980s is $16,476 as compared to $17,765 for the 1970s. In seven out of the 10 years of the 1970s, median family income for blacks was higher than it was in 1986, the peak year for the 1980s."
Further, the median black family income in 1986, $17,604, was 57.1 percent of the median white family income, $30,809.
Conditions of poverty and unemployment have continued to breed crime at alarming rates, posing what Lee P. Brown, chief of police in Houston, called "one of the greatest threats to the well-being of the black community."
Homicide is the leading cause of death among black males between the ages of 15 and 24, Lee wrote. And statistics from 1986 paint a disturbing portrait of blacks as the disproportionate perpetrators of crime, although they account for 12 percent of the population. That year, blacks accounted for 48 percent of all people arrested for homicide, 46.6 percent of those arrested for rape and 62 percent of those arrested for robbery.
While calling for black organizations and communities to attack their problems more aggressively, Jacob said that the battle also is to be joined at the ballot box.
Despite proof that the black vote is a potent force, he said, none of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates except Jesse L. Jackson has more than one minority group member in top campaign positions.
"This is the real scandal of the 1988 election," Jacob said. "Not who sleeps where, not who plagiarized what, but why the people who want to be president are satisfied with lily-white senior campaign staffs."
Jacob said the problems outlined in the report should be viewed not as exclusively black problems, but problems of the nation. The report recommended, among other things, more affordable housing, financial support for community service groups, the setting of a national goal of full employment, the fostering of minority businesses, more financing for schools and restoration of cuts in college aid.