WASHINGTON (AP) – Despite high-profile concern over issues underscored by the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, African Americans and Hispanics are faring well in certain areas, including better health care and reductions in violent crime, the latest State of Black America report from the National Urban League says.
The National Urban League derives its numbers from an "equality index" that is based on nationally collected data from federal agencies including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With full equality with whites in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement set at 100 percent, the National Urban League said this year's equality index for blacks stands at 72.2 percent, an improvement over a revised index of 71.5 percent from last year. The equality index for Hispanics improved to 77.7 percent, compared with 75.8 percent last year.
The Urban League will release the full report on Thursday.
The greatest increases for blacks came in health care and social justice, the Urban League said. Improved health care — to 79.8 percent from 78.2 percent — resulted from increased health insurance coverage since the passage of the national health care law and a decrease in binge drinking by blacks.
An improvement in social justice — to 60.6 percent from 56.9 percent — is credited to fewer blacks becoming victims of violent crimes. In addition, the Urban League said there were fewer black high school students carrying weapons compared with white high school students.
The Urban League considered a number of areas to tally its social justice score, including homicide rates, average prison sentences, arrest rates, hate crime rates and the number of youth carrying weapons.
Relations between police and minorities have been under scrutiny since Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November, and the U.S. Justice Department cleared Wilson of civil rights charges in a report released March 4. Wilson resigned from the department in November.
A separate Justice Department report found widespread racial bias in the city's policing and in a municipal court system driven by profit extracted from mostly black and low-income residents.
"These challenges that we face in the justice area should be a call to action, a call for us to reform and fix and build and strengthen the relationship between police and communities," National Urban League President Marc Morial said.
Areas with decreases for African Americans were education — to 76.1 percent from last year's 76.7 percent — and civic involvement — 104 percent from last year's 104.7 percent. Civic involvement also declined for Hispanics to 71 percent this year from 71.2 last year, the only area among Hispanics that decreased.
The highest increases for Hispanics were also in health care and social justice, the report said. A lower incarceration rate and fewer high school students carrying weapons contributed to the social justice increase for Hispanics — from 66.1 percent to 72.7 percent — while a lower death rate and better health care coverage under the nation's health care law contributed to an increase to 106.9 percent from last year's 102.4 percent.
Improvements in social justice for blacks came despite highly publicized incidents between police and African American men last year, including the deaths of Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. Morial said that blacks and Hispanics are suffering through a "justice, jobs and education" crisis that needs to be addressed.
"If you solve one, you're going to help move in the direction of solving the other," Morial said.