ATLANTA (Reuters) - Black Americans still trail whites on such basics as income, education and health, a study showed on Wednesday, even as Sen. Barack Obama’s barrier-breaking run for the presidency has renewed the national focus on race.
Across a range of economic indicators including measures of employment, poverty, housing, income and wealth, blacks were much worse off than whites. If whites scored 100 percent on such measures, blacks scored just 56.8 percent, a figure unchanged from last year, the National Urban League said.
On a broader index covering such issues as education, health, social justice and civic engagement, blacks stood at 73 percent, an increase of just 0.41 percentage points over last year, the league said.
Three times as many U.S. blacks as whites live below the poverty line, defined as an income of $20,000 for a family of four. The disparity between the races on unemployment narrowed slightly, but blacks were still twice as likely to be jobless.
The report, one of the most comprehensive on the subject, addresses more than 300 separate categories, which it uses to come up with an overall equality index.
“The disparities between black and white Americans remain consistent, nagging and substantial,” League president Marc Morial told Reuters.
“The next (U.S.) president has to take the bull by the horns and change the nation’s priorities and focus on domestic initiatives,” he said in an interview.
Obama, an Illinois senator, would be the first black U.S. president if elected, and, although he remains locked in a battle for the Democratic nomination, has been by far the most successful black presidential candidate.
He and his main Democratic rival, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, last year endorsed the League’s 10-point plan to jump-start urban America and close the economic gap, spokeswoman Adrien Seybert said.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, has yet to say whether he would endorse it.
Despite an extensive legal framework that enshrines racial equality and protects against discrimination, black Americans, especially in inner cities, lag behind other groups.
The discrepancy appears to challenge America’s view of itself as a society of equal opportunity. Some argue that discrimination is a prime cause of inequality, while others say blacks should shoulder greater responsibility for fixing their own problems.
The National Urban League was founded in 1910 to improve the lives of black Americans. Its annual report focuses solely on relationships between blacks and whites, but its programs are open to people from all races.
Education was one area where the disparity between blacks and whites was acute, especially in terms of how many went on to college and how many were enrolled in pre-school programs.
“It’s bad news, because more black high school graduates are putting off college. That’s when you get into trouble with teen pregnancies and crime. People end up putting their dreams on hold,” Seybert said.
But on at least one measure the disparities eased. The average length of prison sentences narrowed in this year’s report to 40 months for a black person and 37 months for a white person, across all crimes. Last year it was 44 months for a black person and 34 months for a white person.
Editing by Patricia Zengerle