This year's report, "Redeem the Dream: Jobs Rebuild America," identifies unemployment as the biggest barrier to that progress. It also marks milestones in black history since 1963, the height of the civil rights movement.
According to the report, released Wednesday during the league's annual legislative conference, 75 per cent of black adults had not completed high school 50 years ago, compared with 15 per cent of black adults today. At the college level, there are now 3.5 times more blacks aged 18-24 enrolled, and five times as many black adults who hold a college degree.
Overall, the standard of living for black Americans improved significantly, due mainly to better access to educational and employment opportunities, the report says. It credits those opportunities to the passage of civil rights laws and affirmative action policies. But there has been much less change between blacks and whites on the economic ladder, with indicators such as employment, income and home ownership.
On average, blacks remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and earn less than two-thirds the income of whites. For every dollar that whites earn, blacks earn 60 cents, the report said.
On average, African-Americans enjoy 71.7 per cent, or fewer than three-fourths, of the benefits and privileges that are offered to white Americans. These include education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement.
The report derives its numbers from an "equality index" that is based on nationally collected data from agencies including the Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics and Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About 300 statistics were used in the index and 140 were weighed in the calculation. Because so many various statistics are used in the index, improvements in certain areas are sometimes offset by losses in others, resulting in gradations of change in the overall percentages.
The National Urban League has launched a $70 million initiative, "Jobs Rebuild America," to help get unemployed African-Americans back to work. The public-private partnership creating and expanding some the group's programs in job training, education, finance, career counselling, entrepreneurship and youth mentoring in about 30 cities. They are also pushing bills to promote employment opportunities for at-risk teens and young adults.
"This is really emphasis on saying that the nation does not have to throw up its hands in the face of this unemployment crisis and this severe unemployment crisis in black America," said Urban League CEO Marc Morial. "There are things that we can do to leverage public and private support to build partnerships to put Americans back to work, and that's why we're doing this."
The report features essays by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart, Dr. Gail Christopher of the Kellogg Foundation, civil rights figure Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Marcia Fudge, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.