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Black Americans’ significant economic and civil rights progress threatened, report says

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black Americans have endured considerable injustices and barriers to prosperity and equality throughout U.S. history. But their social, economic and political advances in the 60 years since the enactment of major civil rights legislation have been unsatisfactory, according to a new annual study on racial progress.

The “State of Black America” report by the National Urban League, which has compiled research and analysis on the status of Black Americans in the U.S. for decades, cites legal challenges to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and backlash to efforts meant to advance racial progress such as affirmative action and diversity, equity and inclusion policies for decelerating progress.

“Doors have been opened in higher education, government and the private sector in that sixty year period. That’s important. Every measure shows progress,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said, in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the report’s release Friday.

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“But I would have thought we would have been much further along than we are in 2024 with respect to achieving a sense of parity in America,” Morial said.

Despite significant economic advancement over several decades, the report also highlights numerous barriers to economic advancement. The result, the report’s authors write, is persistent economic and political disparities. The racial income gap has been virtually unchanged for more than 20 years, with Black Americans making on average 64 percent of the income of white people, the report notes.

Similarly, the study highlighted barriers in opportunity. For instance, Black students are still more likely than their white counterparts to have uncertified and inexperienced teachers. At the same time, the number of Black students dropping out of primary education has decreased from 13.1 percent in 2000 to 3.9 percent in 2024.

The view of Black civic participation is also mixed. While the percentage of Black Americans registered to vote stood at 69 percent in 2020 compared to 64 percent in 2000, the percentage of Black people who voted in 2022 stood at 42.3 percent, a drop from 54 percent who cast ballots in 2002.

At the current pace, it would take anywhere from one to three centuries for most Black Americans to achieve parity with their white peers, depending on their region of the country, according to a February study by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility.

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And while major institutions, including top corporations, governments and media have increased the number of Black leaders in their ranks, such efforts are being limited as diversity and inclusion initiatives face court challenges, public backlash from conservative activists and restrictions by some state and local Republican lawmakers.

“Notwithstanding the effort to move forward, there’s always been a movement of resistance to that progress and that resistance has played a role in decelerating the progress that we need to make on the journey to parity. We see it being played out right now, ” Morial said in reference to issues such as political gerrymandering, book-banning in schools and attacks on diversity policies.

Morial pointed to the current U.S. Supreme Court, which he said “has demonstrated a hostility to the tools necessary to correct the long history of racial discrimination.’

The Urban League’s study also evaluates President Joe Biden’s performance in office and finds his administration’s efforts fall short of promises made to Black Americans, even as the president faces significant opposition from Republican lawmakers and some in his own party.

The report, however, broadly approves of Biden’s policy agenda. A record-low Black unemployment rate, as well as efforts to expand health-care access and affordable housing for Black Americans are signs of progress, the authors wrote.

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Still, the “political opposition” that blocked the enactment of policies considered top priorities by Black Americans, such as voting rights and policing reform, are major letdowns.

“We are in a world of deep attack by an ideological extreme that wants to erase so much of the civil-rights movement,” said Maya Wiley, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and co-author of the study.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department, said federal watchdogs are ready to ensure the nation’s civil rights laws are being followed.

“We’ve been working across the country to reach underserved communities so that we understand the problems that communities face,” Clarke said in an interview with the AP. “Our country thrives when everyone has a voice in our democracy and we remain vigilant and work to counter voting discrimination and voter suppression wherever it rears its ugly head.”

On the eve of the Bloody Sunday anniversary events commemorating voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama this weekend, Morial called on federal officials to increase their efforts to protect civil rights and to better support sociopolitical advances in the Black community.

“This moment is a reminder about our obligation to confront voter suppression and continuing threats that we see when it comes to access to the ballot box,” he said.