The week that began with the first national holiday honoring a black man is ending with a grim update on the economic and social status of black Americans. And as the first Martin Luther King Day fades into memory, black Americans may see their economic status deteriorate further in coming months because of pending federal budget cuts, according to an Urban League study.
The new State of Black America study by the 75-year-old civil rights group reports that the economic gap between blacks and whites widened in 1985 and is wider now that at any time since 1970.
``The state of black America today is deeply troubled,'' said league president John E. Jacob.
At a press conference he asserted that the 220-page report shows black America ``excluded from the economic boom, excluded from full participation in job growth, and in danger of being excluded from tomorrow's economic mainstream.''
The report comes as black Americans, one-third of whom live below the poverty line, may soon face additional reductions in their life style. The added financial pressure would result from cuts in federal spending triggered by the Gramm-Rudman balanced-budget law.
To avoid automatic budget cuts mandated by the law, President Reagan will shortly propose a fiscal 1987 budget that would cut or eliminate a variety of programs, some of which help low-income people.
Among the programs reportedly slated for elimination or reductions are general revenue sharing, the Job Corps, federal housing subsidies, and medicaid.
The black population is disproportionately represented among the group that benefits from programs not exempted from the Gramm-Rudman budget knife. As a result, the budget-trimming process ``is going to put pressure on the parts of the budget blacks get benefit from,'' said Dr. Glenn C. Loury, a professor of public policy at Harvard University.
Even before the President's proposed budget cuts are sent to Congress, many blacks are unhappy with President Reagan. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, almost 2 out of 3 blacks disapprove of Mr. Reagan's handling of his job, half say his policies have held blacks back, and 56 percent say they think of Reagan as a racist. Some 1,022 black Americans were contacted for the poll, which was conducted Jan. 7-14. A December New York Times poll, which contacted only about 110 blacks, had reported a 56 percent approval rating for the President among blacks. A December ABC/Washington Post poll found a 36 percent black approval rating for the President.
In his weekly radio address Jan. 18, Reagan said black Americans had ``done better than ever before'' under his administration. He argued for a colorblind society and repeated his opposition to mandatory numerical hiring quotas for companies with government contracts.
The administration is currently split over a proposed rewrite of a 20-year-old executive order that requires affirmative-action hiring by government contractors.
Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Justice Department civil rights chief William Bradford Reynolds favor the elimination of minority hiring goals and timetables. They contend that such goals degenerate into quotas that discriminate against nonminorities.
Labor Secretary William E. Brock III argues that goals and timetables do not necessarily break down into rigid quotas and are sometimes helpful in correcting past discrimination.
At a press conference Jan. 15, Mr. Meese said the dispute would ``be resolved sometime in the near future.''
Urban League president Jacob argued against changing the order, saying, ``When black citizens enjoy parity in our society, affirmative action will no longer be necessary. Until then it must be preserved.''
Economic statistics show blacks are far from enjoying economic parity. One measure of economic inequality is the relationship between income for black and white families. In 1984, the latest year for which figures are available, the median black family had about 56 cents to spend for every dollar white families had to spend. That was 2 cents less per dollar than blacks had in 1980 and almost 6 cents less than blacks had in 1970.
The median income for black families in 1984 was $15,432, up $800 from the depths of the recession in 1982. But after adjusting for inflation, income for black families in 1984 was almost $1,500 less than it was in 1970, according to David Swinton, director of Clark College's Center for Studies in Public Policy.