The State of Equality for Black Americans Remains Unchanged Since 2005
with Marc Morial of the National Urban League
The state of equality for Black Americans has remained unchanged for more than 15 years, according to the National Urban League’s 2022 Equality Index.
Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss how Black Americans are faring today, and how access to voting and civic engagement can advance economic and social mobility.
Jan 30, 2023
Anderson: Recently, and despite strong spending and relatively low unemployment, Black Americans aren't progressing at the same rate as white Americans when it comes to areas such as homeownership, health, and other key economic areas. That's according to the most recent Equality Index, an annual measurement calculated by the National Urban League. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The Equality Index analyzes how well Black Americans are faring across 300 social and economic indicators. Joining me to discuss how the National Urban League calculates this annual measurement and ways it can be used to shape public policies is Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. Marc, thanks for being here.
Morial: Tetiana, thank you for having me.
Anderson: So, first question -- Why was the index started and how does it actually work? I mean, what are you measuring and how is it calculated?
Morial: In the early 2000s, there was a narrative promulgated in the media and at the public square that as we approach the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65, that Black Americans had achieved equality, that the civil rights work was over, that the country had achieved this sort of great measure of equal opportunity and, if you will, a sense of equality and economic health and educational -- education-- and educational means. I thought instinctively it was wrong and inaccurate. But how do you counteract a narrative which was being promulgated by many commentators at that point in time? Well, we decided we needed to create a measuring stick that was easy to understand, that was easy to put together, and that we could, if you will, stand up on an annual basis. Thus, the Equality Index was born. And fundamentally what it does is it compares the economic and social status of Black Americans with those of white Americans. So, what do we mean by the economic and social status? So, we compare the unemployment rates of Black Americans and white Americans, the homeownership rates, the life expectancy rate, the death rate due to diabetes, HIV. We compare high school graduation rates, college matriculation and graduation rates, homeownership rates, as I said, business formation rates -- 300 sets of data. And we decided to create an index. And with that index, the status of white Americans would be the number one, and the status of Black Americans would be a percentage of one. So, Black Americans in the last index, indexed at about 74% of white Americans when you sort of create an average across all of these numbers. Some are higher and some are lower. And importantly, in the almost 20 years that we've been doing the index, the numbers have changed relatively little.
Anderson: How is it possible that nothing has changed?
Morial: The country will be 250 years old in 2026. For 200 of those 250 years, 80% of those years, Black Americans were either enslaved or living where there were actual laws that denied them the right to own homes, the right to work in certain places, etc. The system of segregation or American apartheid, as I call it. We've been on this journey now in a concerted way, really for about 50 to 60 years. So, over time, white Americans have a head start in accumulating wealth, in accumulating income, in securing education, in so many areas that Black Americans literally entered the race many, many laps behind. So, even when you enter the race many laps behind and run as fast as those who are ahead, you'll never catch up. And therein lies the dichotomy that, yes, Black Americans, we have more middle-class Black Americans today, more Black elected officials, doctors, lawyers, et cetera, but relatively speaking, there are more white Americans who, quote, own homes today, more white Americans who are doctors, lawyers, high school graduates, and college graduates. And therefore, as whites move fast and as Blacks -- even as Blacks move as fast, we will still never achieve this sort of parity, which is the word I like, a sense of economic and social parity.
Anderson: So, parity has a lot of moving parts. And I know a large part of the work that the National Urban League does is around voting rights. So, how does access to voting and participating in the democratic process really lead to achieving economic and social mobility?
Morial: So, the lawmakers, the people we elect to public office, be it a mayor, city council, a president, a member of Congress, they make the rules by which we live. They create the regulatory system for banks. They create the way in which tax dollars are allocated, whether it's for the military or for domestic needs. The idea is, for Black Americans' agenda and those things for all Americans that promote equity to be always in the conversation, we have to have representatives of our own choice. We have to have a seat at the table, or proverbially, we'll be on the menu -- to be discussed by others, but not to participate in that discussion. And that's the idea. Politics by itself, involvement in voting by itself certainly is not the only way to parity or for freedom, but it is so powerful.
Anderson: This whole conversation we've been having is about participation, and it really makes me wonder about some basic things that, you know, we can do as individuals to move the needle on the Equality Index so that there is parity in Black America. I mean, what do you recommend?
Morial: Be committed to voting. Be committed to community involvement. Be committed to being your best. Be committed to paying it forward. Be committed to standing up to hate and to racism. All of these things are important for individuals and collective groups of people to be able to do. It is about all of us. It is a nation of -- yes, where individual energy and responsibility can do something, but if your legs are chained to a fence or if you started in the race 200 years later, it is difficult simply on your own, without changes to the rules of the game, to achieve the parity I have discussed.
Anderson: It is an ongoing conversation. And, Marc, if people want to know more about your work, what's the website? Where should they go?
Morial: NUL.org, or follow us across all social media @NatUrbanLeague. Or you can follow me @MarcMorial to be a part of this conversation.
Anderson: Marc Morial of the National Urban League, thank you so much for being here.
Morial: Great to be with you today.
Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.