US blacks - long road to equality

A new reminder exists of the distance the United States still must travel to fulfill its promise of full equality for black citizens. It should start all Americans thinking about steps that should be taken to meet this challenge.

The reminder is the annual report of the National Urban League, a sobering document which concluded that the much-publicized economic recovery has largely bypassed blacks. This assessment found that overall black unemployment last month was 17.8 percent, and black teen-age unemployment 49 percent; more blacks live below the poverty level - 35.6 percent - than at any time in 10 years; and the median annual income of black families headed by women - 42 percent of all black families - is only $7,425.

The league concluded that jobs are the top priority for black Americans today , and that the economic gap between blacks and whites is again widening.

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In the long run the key to improved jobs is better education, given the changing nature of the American economy with its increased emphasis on technology, which requires more education and training of job-seekers. Smokestack industries - traditional places of employment for less-educated blacks, especially males - are in permanent decline.

During the decade of the 1970s blacks made major gains in education, yet clearly more progress is needed. A special need is to improve the quality of inner-city schools. At the post-high school level more blacks ought to be encouraged to enter the technical training fields necessary for high-tech work.

Blacks also need physical access to the jobs of today, and tomorrow. Many of the high-tech firms that have been providing growth in employment are in suburbs , inaccessible to many city-dwelling blacks.

Black families must have more support from both government and the private sector. Young single mothers should be encouraged to return to school to obtain the education necessary to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty into which many welfare recipients find themselves sinking. Child care should be made available so that they can do this: Not only is it the right thing to do, but in the long run it is the least expensive.

Finally, effective job retraining programs need to be provided for adult blacks whose skills no longer fit today's job market.

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