The National Urban League concluded the first conference of its second century of service and economic empowerment this past Saturday in Boston.
By all accounts, this was one of the most successful gatherings in the organization’s 101-year history. Thousands of citizens from across the country came to the birthplace of America to rally support for jobs and to keep the American Dream alive.
This year’s conference which was themed, “Jobs Rebuild America,” gave voice to the concerns of 14 million unemployed Americans, including urban communities of color that have suffered the most during the Great Recession.
The National Urban League has been a lifeline of support during this crisis, providing job training, foreclosure prevention, education and health services to a record 2.6 million Americans in 2010. But even with that assistance, our communities continue to fall further behind.
In a new National Urban League report released during the conference, “At Risk: The State of the Black Middle Class,” we found that the great recession has begun to dismantle the crown jewel achievement of racial advancement in America — a strong black middle class.
Our analysis clearly shows that whether one looks at education, income or any other meaningful measure, almost all the economic gains that blacks have made in the last 30 years have been lost in the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and in the anemic recovery that has followed since June 2009.
This means that the size of the black middle class is shrinking, the fruits that come from being in the black middle class are dwindling, and the ladders of opportunity for reaching the black middle class are disappearing.
Our conference was also held in the midst of the debt ceiling debate which for weeks has held the American economy hostage to demands for draconian budget cuts that would spare wealthier Americans from tax increases and further imperil black America along with middle and working class families.
That is why on the first day of the conference we asked the American people to formally enlist in the war on unemployment. In the spirit of the “Shot Heard Round the World” that rang out from Lexington, Mass. on April 19, 1775 and began the Revolutionary War, we fired an opening volley in the War on Unemployment by urging everyone at our conference and everyone in America to sign an open letter to the president and Congressional leaders.
Our letter urges our political leaders to refocus the national debate from deficit reduction to putting America back to work. It calls for a national jobs summit and a national jobs plan based in part on the National Urban League’s 12-point jobs plan.
It is my hope that public pressure will achieve what political leadership has thus far struggled to deliver — a fair, balanced and effective solution to the issue of job creation and ballooning budget deficits.
Marc Morial is the National Urban League president and CEO.