Locked out Photo by Stephen-L-Johnson
The Urban League has a big idea. In its 40th anniversary edition of The State of Black America, the longtime civil rights organization is calling for a $1 trillion multi-year investment in urban and black America in a proposal titled, “The Main Street Marshall Plan: Moving from Poverty to Prosperity.”
Following Europe’s devastation in World War II, the United States backed a $3 billion rebuilding effort ($30 billion in 2016 dollars, according to the Urban League). It was dubbed the Marshall Plan after General George C. Marshall, then secretary of state. The Urban League sees this as a viable model for delivering aid, as well as an example of how the U.S. government can bring about substantial and rapid change when it commits to doing so.
This year’s theme for the report is “Locked Out,” which refers to the ongoing marginalization of blacks and Latinos across a range of indices. Whether it is education, employment, housing or health care, people of color continue to lag behind their white counterparts. Much of this is captured in the report’s “Equality Index,” which compares blacks, Latinos and whites on a number of measures including median household income, poverty, employment, home ownership rates, civic engagement, and education attainment.
Factoring all of these measures collectively, the Equality Index concludes that blacks and Latinos are doing 72.2 percent and 77.8 percent, respectively, as well as whites—disparities similar to what they were 40 years ago.
The Main Street Marshall Plan calls for massive investments in universal early childhood education, urban infrastructure, small and micro-business financing. It would expand summer youth employment program, extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, double Pell Grants, establish Green Empowerment Zones, and increase federal funding to local school districts, among other initiatives.
But the Urban League report does not address why these and other progressives proposals have failed to advance over the last seven years, despite expressions of support from President Obama. It avoids any reference that could be interpreted to favor either major political party, and fails to critique the increasing racist direction of the Republican Party. It is pretty obvious, however, that for Trump and the GOP writ large, the Main Street Marshall Plan is dead-on-arrival. Trump has emboldened the most xenophobic, racist, misogynistic forces in the Republican base.
The plan offers no strategy that recognizes the dangerous possibility of a Trump presidency. Indeed, even if the Democrats win, a strategy is still required to overcome the unyielding resistance of Republicans in Congress and governing bodies around the country. And while the report acknowledges the Black Lives Matter movement, it retreats from endorsing its use of street actions and direct confrontation.
Overall, the report remains an important critique of racial disparities that have existed for generations. Rather than blame the black community, it correctly calls for state intervention to address these concerns, efforts that the United States have carried out on other occasions. The challenge going forward is to marry this critique with an effective and robust strategy.
Dr. Clarence Lusane is the chair of the Political Science Department at Howard University and scholar focused on human rights, racial justice, and global politics.