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the Associated Press

Urban League Asks Obama to Address Ongoing Inequalities

Jesse Washington

Urban League CEO Marc Morial gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, Tuesday, March 24, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK - President Barack Obama should specifically address disparities in black unemployment, foreclosures, education and health care, the National Urban League says in its annual "State of Black America" report.

Despite the progress represented by the election of the first black U.S. president, blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated, says the report, which was being released Wednesday by the civil rights organization.

Obama has said that the way for government to help minorities is by improving things like education, employment and health care for all Americans.

But "we have to be more specific," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the 99-year-old Urban League.

"The issue is not only (blacks) doing better, but in closing these persistent gaps in statistics in this country," Morial told The Associated Press. "Our index shows that the gap in African-American status is about 71 percent that of white Americans. We will not rest until that number is at 100, and there is no gap."

The 288-page report includes policy discussions and essays from academics, elected officials and average citizens. Among its 31 specific recommendations:

_ Ensure that the stimulus package's green job creation includes poor urban communities.

_ Increase funding for job training and placement for disadvantaged workers.

_ Guarantee full-day schooling for all 3 and 4 year olds.

_ Expand the school day to account for working parents and families without nearby relatives to help with after-school care.

_ Fund mortgage counseling and education programs for minorities.

_ Implement universal health care and a "comprehensive" system to provide blacks with health education, prevention and intervention.

Morial acknowledged the role self-responsibility must play in improving the lives of blacks.

"We have some things in our own community where we have to step up, when it comes to focusing and emphasizing the basic value of achievement and accomplishment in our children, and doing it in a very young age," he said. "We have to not be afraid to say, 'Turn off the TV, shut down the Internet. SpongeBob, Dora, all these folks need to take a little break.'"

But public policy is a crucial ingredient, he said.

"It matters if your high school biology class has a biology lab. It matters if your second-grade classroom is air conditioned if it's in South Carolina or Florida or Alabama.

"Public policy matters, and we have to recognize too that it does require additional and extraordinary investments when it comes to children, to lift up children that are disadvantaged," Morial said.

He pointed out that since today's minority population will soon be a majority of Americans, "these kind of things will make us better off and advance the cause of the nation."

As a presidential candidate, Obama sidestepped the minefield of race and politics whenever possible, instead focusing on a message of American unity. And in his two months as president, the financial meltdown has left Obama little time or political capital to spend on anything besides rescuing the economy.

But in 2007, as the junior senator from Illinois, Obama wrote the foreword to the "State of Black America" report, which focused on the problems facing black men.

"This sad story is a stark reminder that the long march toward true and meaningful equality in America isn't over," Obama wrote. "We have a long way to go."

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