ABOVE PHOTO: Marc Morial (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
By Jesse J. Holland
WASHINGTON — While unemployment has been a major impediment to African-Americans’ economic progress, underemployment is a bigger obstacle for them than it is for whites or Hispanics, the National Urban League says in its latest State of Black America report.
The annual report, called “One Nation Underemployed: Jobs Rebuild America,” noted that African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for blacks was 12 percent in February, compared to 5.8 percent for whites.
The underemployment rate for African-American workers was 20.5 percent, the report said, compared to 18.4 percent for Hispanic workers and 11.8 percent for white workers. Underemployment is defined as those who are jobless or working part-time jobs but desiring full-time work.
“The post-recession economy is leaving too many people behind,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said.
Despite the dismal numbers, an analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found African-Americans significantly more optimistic about their future standard of living than whites, regardless of income level, education, or partisanship. Overall, 71 percent of blacks surveyed in the 2012 General Social Survey agreed that they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, outpacing the share among whites by 25 percentage points.
The survey found high optimism even among blacks who say racism is a cause for economic inequality.
Such findings illustrate “a level of optimism in the African-American community and it’s important to lift that up,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which released similar findings this week in separate research.
The National Urban League is pushing for several economic measures, including an increase in the minimum wage, an issue being debated in Congress. Democrats backed by President Barack Obama want to force election-year votes on gradually increasing today’s minimum to $10.10 by 2016, an effort that seems likely to fail in Congress. Republicans generally oppose the proposal, saying it would cost too many jobs.
“More must be done in post-recession America to try to help people and help communities close these gaps,” Morial said.
The National Urban League derives its numbers from an “equality index” that is based on nationally collected data from federal agencies including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With full equality with whites in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement set at 100 percent, the National Urban League said this year’s equality index for blacks stands at 71.2 percent, a slight improvement over last year’s index of 71.0 percent. However, the economic portion of the index dropped from 56.3 percent to 55.5 percent.
The equality index for Hispanics improved to 75.8 percent, compared to 74.6 percent last year, while the Hispanic economics index declined from 60.8 percent to 60.6 percent.
The report for the first time ranked large American cities from most equal to least equal when it comes to income equality and unemployment equality.
Memphis, Tenn., ranked the most equal for Hispanics when it came to unemployment equality, because in that city the Latino unemployment rate was only 3.8 percent, compared with a 6.5 percent unemployment rate for whites. For blacks, the Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., metropolitan area was most equal, with a 13.3 percent unemployment rate for blacks and an 8.5 percent unemployment rate for whites.
When it came to income, the most equal city for blacks was Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., where the median black household income was $44,572, while the median white household brought in $57,252. For Hispanics, Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., was most equal, with median Hispanic income of $39,434 and median white income of $44,014.