JOHN JACOB has been president of the Urban League, an 82-year-old civil rights organization, since 1981. During that time, he has used his position as a bully pulpit to sound off on what he perceives as the United States' neglect of its inner cities and urban areas.
During the Urban League's national convention this summer in San Diego, he told the assembled delegates that, for two decades, "during Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses, America has been trapped in a long-term trend of growing poverty and inequality."
America's racial gap has widened since the gains of the civil rights era, he said, as a changing economy has exported manufacturing jobs to countries that pay workers pennies per hour. Since 1979, "the most affluent Americans have made big gains, while 80 percent of all workers lost ground."
"Today, almost 1 of every 5 American workers is in a low-wage job. For blacks, it is 1 out of every 4, for Latinos 1 out of every 3."
Though the Los Angeles riots were a "wake up" call for America, he added, "[the country] has a long tradition ... of briefly reacting when the bitter volcano of anger erupts ... and then lapsing back into wishfully thinking that the problem has been solved."
After his speech, the Monitor asked Mr. Jacob whether the concerns he had voiced about black Americans in urban areas were being adequately addressed during the 1992 campaign. He responded with cautious praise of the Democratic Party.
"Clearly, the Democrats have struck some of the planks that have great relevance to the African-American community ... the whole notion of rebuilding the country's infrastructure, education and the rest," he said. "They are talking $50 billion, which I think is a good beginning."
Jacob added that the Democratic platform sounded remarkably similar to a "Marshall Plan" advocated by the League for spending $500 billion on urban America during the next 10 years. The only difference, he said, is that the League's plan "is more targeted ... than theirs."
But he added that the Democratic platform "goes a long way toward restoring hope and removing the feeling of helplessness in the African-American community."
While praising the Democratic platform, however, Jacob said he didn't know whether blacks would turn out in large numbers to vote for Gov. Bill Clinton on Nov. 3.
The Democratic candidate is helped by blacks' history of voting for his party, and by the fact that, in Jacob's view, "the Republicans have not brought forth a domestic program that speaks to the plight of the city."
Jacob accused the GOP of virtually defaulting in the race for blacks' votes.
"George Bush refused to speak to us here or to the NAACP, which is a serious mistake," he said. "It sends the signal that the entire Republican Party minus Jack Kemp has not given any significant weight to blacks."