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The State of Black America is Improving, But Not Close to Parity

The conditions for Blacks in the U.S. have improved slightly over the years, but parity with white Americans has yet to be reached, according to 2024 State of Black America report from the National Urban League (NUL).Marc MorialMarc Morial

This 48th annual edition of the report carries a special focus on the 60-year anniversary of the passing of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation combatting discrimination in America.

Centering the importance of the Civil Rights Act is a good move, given Republicans’ apparent desire to overturn the legislation once they are in power, said Dr. Alvin Tillery, Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.

“All of these attacks on DEI, what they are is just kind of conditioning white people and the unaware to believe that equity is optional, which it should not be, according to the 14th Amendment,” said Tillery who is scheduled to be a panelist on a DEI panel slated to take place next month at Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention in New York City. “If you can convince people to do that, then convincing them that you don't need a law promoting equity for people of color is a very easy thing to do.”

The report outlines a handful of legal cases in recent years that pose a threat to the principles and statutes maintained by the Civil Rights Act. These includes an attempt in the state of Arizona to reject voter registration forms on the basis of errors or omissions. The bill was recently deemed in violation of federal law.

One of the other legislative changes the report draws attention to is the drastic rejection of affirmative action by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. The practice has historically been employed to increase the presence of underrepresented minority students at U.S. colleges. 

To get rid of affirmative action amounts to “setting back the hands of time,” said Dr. Donna Y. Ford, Distinguished Professor of Education and Human Ecology at the Ohio State University.

“When you put that together with the Civil Rights law of 1964, they just don't mesh. They are diametrically in opposition to each other,” Ford said. “So we've got to, as the report said, not be silent. We must take some action in whatever capacity that we can to make sure that, despite affirmative action no longer being permitted, we still achieve equity.”Black America

This edition’s Equality Index, the organization’s ongoing measure of the status and wellbeing of Black Americans, indicated improvement compared to two years ago – 2024 had a score of 0.76 and 2022 scored 0.74. Despite this improvement, a score less than a 1 still indicates a lack of equality between Black and white people in the country.

Voter registration among Black people in 2022 was found to have decreased since 2002, another midterm election year.

"There's an active effort to suppress the vote, purge voters, close polling places, eliminate early voting [and] Sunday voting, eliminate mail voting in many jurisdictions,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “A really regressive and retrogressive effort from conservative interests [that is] manifesting itself in legislatures where Republicans have majorities and supermajorities.”

Black students still face obstacles in schools, such as still having a higher likelihood to have uncertified teachers (4.9%) and inexperienced teachers (15.2%) compared to their white peers (2.1% and 8.9%, respectively).

“Our schools are more segregated than ever before,” Ford said. “My work is in gifted and talented education. And you can definitely see that, where Black students continue to be underrepresented in gifted and talented education by 50 to 55%.”

According to a 2022 federal report, during the 2020-21 school year, more than 33% of U.S. students attended a predominantly same-race/ethnicity school and 14% attended schools where almost all of the student body was made up of a single race/ethnicity.

The segregation present in schools today is not surprising but still frustrating all the same, said Dr. Stefan Bradley, the Charles Hamilton Houston '15 Professor of Black Studies and History at Amherst College.

Economic inequalities also continue to persist, with Black men receiving 71 cents per dollar earned by white men in 2024 and Black women receiving 84 cents for every dollar earned by white women. Both these figures indicate declines from 2000. And Black Americans still face a higher unemployment rate (5.3%) than white counterparts (3.4%) as of January 2024.

On the other hand, a significantly smaller percentage of Blacks students are dropping out of high school in 2024 (3.9%) compared to 2000 (13.1%). And Black Americans are being incarcerated at smaller rates than 24 years ago as well.

These improvements for the Black community have been slight over the last 20 years, with most of the improvement accelerating in the last two or three, according to Morial, who previously served as mayor of New Orleans. At this pace – 2-3% every 20 years – Black Americans and the nation are 180 years away from parity in America, he said.

The report also looks at the work done and yet to be done during President Joe Biden’s presidency three years in, finding that 46th president has made notable improvements or investments on a number of fronts, including cabinet diversity, the Black employment rate, and providing access for Black Americans to healthcare.

The report lists the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson and investments of $74 million and $43 million for school security and community policing and de-escalation training as part of Biden’s work towards criminal justice reform.

According to the report, Biden’s work on student loan debt forgiveness remains unfinished, though his administration’s efforts have resulted in more than 3.7 million borrowers receiving $136.6 billion in student loan forgiveness. It continues to work towards further forgiveness via negotiated rulemaking.

Bradley took note of Biden’s historically diverse cabinet.

“That doesn't mean that necessarily things will be progressive for Black people,” Bradley said. “But it does indicate a desire to have people with different ideas in the administration.”

Along with the report are a series of essays online from various contributors, including Marcia L. Fudge, who recently announced that she was retiring as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker; Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice; and Biden.

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