The state of the African-American community in the recession
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: A hundred years ago this year, the National Urban League was founded with the specific mission of improving the economic odds for African-Americans. The group’s annual conference and centennial celebration starts in Washington D.C. today. President Obama will be speaking to the group tomorrow.
Marc Morial is the president of the National Urban League. Good to have you with us.
Marc Morial: Great to be with you.
Ryssdal: I probably don’t need to remind you that unemployment for African-Americans in this country is about 15.5 percent — well above that for the general population. It seems to me you still have some challenges.
Morial: We have big challenges. The nation remains in crisis. The recession has impacted black people in a very significant way. The unemployment rate is up to 16 percent. The home ownership rate has declined by some 3 percent. Many people have lost their homes and I’m talking about in the African-American community. And you have an overall sense that things are tougher, times are tougher, families are struggling to make ends meet.
Ryssdal: Is there an answer though? Or is it a systemic problem that you’re going to be whacking away at for another 100 years?
Morial: It’s partially a systemic problem, it’s partially a problem we think can be effectively addressed by good public policy — by changes in how we approach jobs, by changes in how we approach housing, by changes in how we approach education. We have to raise the awareness and the Urban League is unique, because we actually provide services to people. So we are very interested in those steps that can be taken to expand job training services for example. Expand the number of people that have access to a housing counselor so that they can renegotiate a mortgage. We have seen in this recession — we served, I should say — 2.1 million people, the most ever in the history of the organization. It’s a demonstration that as the recession has increased and augmented our need and the need for us and our services is equally and dramatically increased.
Ryssdal: Speaking of public policy then, point me at a success in your mind that the Obama Administration has had for minorities and African-Americans.
Morial: Two very important successes that are going to have long-term benefits. Number one is health care reform. Health care reform and the extension of insurance is going to ultimately close health care disparities in a very significant way.
Number two is bank reform. Bank reform creates for the first time, an opportunity to put some controls on lending that has become predatory in some cases. The president has in many respects, passed things that are going to take time. What that does, however, mean is that while I think his stimulus had an affect on the economy, I was one of those who 18 months ago felt that the stimulus should have been bigger. That the investment should have been more like $2 trillion than $800 million, given all of the difficulties that we were facing in the economy.
Ryssdal: On this issue of things taking time though it seems that that puts you in the position, as the head of the Urban League, of counseling your members and those you serve to have patience, yet again.
Morial: I think we encourage people to be assertive and to be aggressive but also to be pragmatic. Big legislation like health reform shouldn’t take a decade to implement, but it will take years to implement. Big legislation like bank reform shouldn’t take 25 years, but it should be something that we feel in effect in 24 to 48 months. That’s the reality of the times in which we live.
Ryssdal: Marc Morial, the head of the National Urban League. Thanks very much for your time.
Morial: Thanks for having me.
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