A disappointing decade for blacks

In the wake of the urban rioting of the 1960s, it was not uncommon to hear concerned and sympathetic whites remark that the frustrations of American blacks , while understandable, would not be resolved overnight. With hard-won civil-rights laws finally on the books, the even harder tasks of enforcing them and preparing the next generation to move into the economic mainstream would take time. So the reasoning went. Righting the wrongs of 200 years of discrimination and second-class citizenship would require patience and constant toil but, given time, gradual progress would be evident. Today, however, more than a decade later, two new reports on the status of black Americans seem to call such rationalizing into question. They paint a discouraging picture of little overall real progress.

In fact, instead of continuing to push ahead, as expected at the start of the 1970s, blacks actually lost ground to whites economically over the past 10 years , according to a new study by the National Urban League. For instance, a decade ago, black family income averaged about 61 percent that of whites. By 1978, it had dropped to 59 percent. In real purchasing power, the median family income of blacks rose only 3.1 percent to $10,879 between 1970 and 1978, whereas whites saw theirs increase by 6.8 percent to $18,368. Black unemployment (11.3 percent) remains more than twice as high as white joblessness (5.1 percent) and is actually higher than it was at the start of the 1970s (8.2 percent). Moreover, the poverty rate among blacks in 1978 was 30.6 percent as compared with 8.7 percent among whites.

And the gap shows up in other areas, too. A week ago a separate report by the US Civil Rights Commission labeled 1979 a year of "drift" in civil rights. It found nearly half of all minority-group school children still in "racially isolated schools," and it faulted Congress of using antibusing and other legislative riders for preventing federal action to speed up desegregation. The federal panel found that "housing discrimination remains widespread throughout the United States" with a "grim patter" of minority families paying "disproportionately high costs for flawed deteriorating, and overcrowded housing."

Both the Urban League and the Civil Rights Commission noted some signs of progress as well. However, the tenor of both reports was summed up in the commission's conclusion: ". . . the lack of enforcement by the executive branch of government, the weakening of good legislation by Congress, and the diminishing will and vision on the part of many Americans are discouraging."

The message from both is clear. In the rush to meet the nation's concerns about defense, inflation, and energy. Congress and the Carter administration must not completely lose sight of the sufferings of blacks and other minorities and of the long road still to be traveled before the last vestiges of discrimination can be said to have been wiped out, once and for all. Renewed dedication and a greater determination on the part of all Americans is needed to help more blacks achieve the economic and educational progress that continues to elude too many.

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