By MARC MORIAL
“When we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates, and employment rates, one thing stands out: Blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape.”
– New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg
The Great Recession was officially declared over in 2009, but the events of the last few weeks make it clear that while Wall Street and big business may be coming back, the economic recovery has remained out of reach for millions of Americans. Last week, in the wake of the dysfunctional debt ceiling debate and an agreement that fell far short of just about everyone’s expectations, the nation’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history from AAA to AA+. This could mean higher interest rates for mortgages, car loans and credit cards. In addition, the July jobs report shows that while overall unemployment has ticked down to 9.1 percent, 14 million Americans remain out of work. Hispanic unemployment is stuck at 11.3 percent. African-American unemployment continues to lead the nation at 15.9 percent. And with Black male unemployment at 17 percent, and as high as 34 percent in cities like Milwaukee, some have dubbed this the “Black Mancession.”
The National Urban League (NUL), the Congressional Black Caucus and other progressive leaders have long understood that America’s future is inextricably linked to the fate of the millions of Black men in our cities who have historically languished at the bottom of the economic ladder in both good times and bad. In addition to being last in line for jobs, 50 percent of Black males don’t finish high school, and Black men are six times more likely than White men to be incarcerated. Empowering Black males to reach their full potential is one of the most serious economic and civil rights challenges of our times.
In 2004, the National Urban League launched its Black Male Initiative to address the obstacles impeding the success of Black men and boys – especially the poor and young who’ve fallen off the nation’s radar screen. From our Black Executive Exchange Program, which exposes HBCU students to African-American role models, to our Urban Youth Empowerment Program, which provides education, job training and mentoring assistance to prepare out-of-school and/or adjudicated young people for the world of work, the NUL has fought an often lonely battle to save the next generation.
Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined that effort in a big way – announcing one of the boldest and most comprehensive programs in the nation to address the huge economic disparities impeding the advancement of more than 300,000 of that city’s Black and Latino young men. The Young Men’s Initiative, a three-year, $127 million public-private partnership, which includes $30 million from the mayor’s own charitable foundation, will make significant reforms to education, health, employment and justice system services to better prepare young African-American and Latino men for jobs and keep them out of prison.
We applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment and action. His Young Men’s Initiative, like the National Urban League’s 12-point Jobs Rebuild American plan and the Urban Jobs Bill championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Edolphus Towns, recognizes that without a targeted, comprehensive effort to help those hardest hit by the economic downturn, the nation’s recovery will never be fully complete.
Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.