Amidst this historic year of 2018 – marked by 50th anniversaries and landmarks of the civil rights movement – one thing remains clear:
“While a lot has changed for African-Americans and other people of color in this country since 1968, many things have not. Even after the historic two-term election of the first African-American president of the United States, full racial equality remains a distant goal.”
Secondly, “Progress toward this goal must currently be pursued under the national leadership of a president whose rhetoric and actions have done more to fan the flames of racism and divisiveness rather than inspire greater equality.”
Those conclusions are among the sobering realities expressed by the Economic Policy Institute’s Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson, a guest essayist in the National Urban League’s 2018 State of Black America (SOBA) report.
Wilson continues “The Civil Rights Act of 1968, outlawing housing discrimination, was signed into law … And the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, delivered a bold and profound report to President Lyndon B. Johnson. After spending several months gathering data and directly witnessing conditions in urban America, the report concluded that ‘white racism’ was to blame for the ‘pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing.’
“These conditions, together with widespread mistreatment and abuse of Black citizens at the hands of the police, were cited as causes of poverty and civil unrest in segregated Black communities.”
Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, gives a stark conclusion: “While a lot has changed for African-Americans and other people of color in this country since 1968, many things have not.”
The 24-page Executive Summary of the hefty study, led by NUL President/CEO Marc Morial, goes on to release the data undergirding Wilson’s conclusion. Among the findings:
• Income disparities remain a distressing hallmark of our economy with African-Americans earning a median household income of $38,555 compared to a white median household income of $63,155.
• Despite the painful saga of Black enslavement in America, the median household income of Hispanics – at and $46,882 – has well-surpassed that of African-Americans.
• People of color are persistently under or unemployed. Nationally, African-Americans have the highest unemployment rate at 7.5 percent, followed by Hispanics at 5.1 percent.
• Despite employment gains, the African-American unemployment rate remains consistently double that of White Americans and consistently well above the national average.
The 2018 SOBA, titled “Save Our Cities: Powering the Digital Revolution,” zooms in on the technology industry, which it calls the “third revolution.” In a close look at African-Americans in technology, the report reveals a somewhat new category where African-Americans are woefully lacking, but where the potential is great.
The findings include:
• African-Americans have proven to be eager, early adopters of technology, leading influencers and content creators in social media – as evidenced by the power of “Black Twitter.” Yet, nearly one-third of low-income families with school-aged children have no access to broadband at home. • Lacking this vital tool of broadband, many students are left with few realistic options to access the internet, leaving them digitally undeveloped and vulnerable to low earning outcomes.
• While Blacks and Hispanics are avid consumers of digital technology, they are grossly underrepresented in the digital workforce.
• Young, Black entrepreneurs tap into technology to solve everyday challenges – and become wealthy in the process. But the latest Equal Employment Opportunity reports filed by Google, Facebook and Twitter showed that out of a combined workforce of 41,000 employees, only 758, or 1.8 percent were Black. C-suite executives of tech firms publicly espouse the gospel of racial and gender diversity and inclusion, but these spaces do not reflect our nation’s demographic diversity.”
• In the majority of tech companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African-American, while at least half of the workforce is White. The tech sector is a fast growing one in which people with high school degrees are averaging annual salaries in excess of $80,000. This represents an opportunity for advancing the workforce participation of women and people of color and reducing the income inequality gap.
Some of the most popular brands in the tech industry are among the worst offenders, Morial points out in his SOBA message, “From the President’s Desk”:
“The latest Equal Employment Opportunity reports filed by Google, Facebook and Twitter showed that out of a combined workforce of 41,000 employees, only 758, or 1.8 percent were Black. C-suite executives of tech firms publicly espouse the gospel of racial and gender diversity and inclusion, but these spaces do not reflect our nation’s demographic diversity. Only increased representation from top to bottom will drive corporate change that prioritizes equity,” Morial writes.
He compares the modern-day tech industry to the historic “great migration” during the industrial revolution, which was “highlighted by the rapid development of railroads, steel mills and advanced manufacturing.”
He said, “Despite the period’s economic opportunity, African-Americans – once again – found themselves on the outside looking in. As the Great Migration relocated Blacks from the rural South to the North’s bustling cities with no housing, access to jobs and little more than the clothes on their backs, the National Urban League and its mission of economic empowerment was born.”
Morial continued, “Struggling to establish their place in the burgeoning economy, Black migrants encountered the exclusionary effect of racial segregation laws and codes in the North.
“To make matters worse, as the growing Black community began to establish a toehold into America’s robust industrial economy, manufacturers abandoned the cities for suburbs and shed jobs through automation, initiating the shift to today’s digital revolution.”
He concludes, “Fortunately, this third revolution is still in its youth – and ripe with potential for Black Americans.”
He says the NUL will continue championing equality by “taking our calls to action to the world wide web” and “streaming our priorities with ‘For the Movement’, a weekly podcast that discusses policy, civil rights and social issues relevant to African-Americans and communities of color.”
He adds that NUL’s growing affiliate network “is plugged in, providing constituents with tech-oriented programming, workforce training and business incubation.”
He warns that the time is now to move for justice. “This ain’t your grandparents’ industrial-revolution-era civil rights organization. The stakes are high. If we do not strategically leverage this moment for the broader goals of justice, equity and economic opportunity for all, new technology will widen the cavernous opportunity gap still faced by African-Americans and communities of color.”
By Hazel Trice Edney