The head of the National Urban League urged government officials Tuesday to shift at least $50 billion away from defense spending now that the Cold War is ending and invest it in an "urban Marshall Plan"--an aggressive domestic social-aid program aimed at educating minority members and rebuilding impoverished cities.
In issuing the civil rights organization's 15th annual "State of Black America" report, Urban League President John E. Jacob said that conditions for black Americans had not improved measurably during the 1980s.
And, foreseeing competition over limited federal resources, he said the nation should commit itself to completing "our unfinished revolution for democracy and human rights" before it makes a major economic commitment to the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe.
"At a time when we hear policy-makers talk of a new Marshall Plan and a new Economic Development Bank for Eastern Europe, we need to press for an Urban Marshall Plan and an Urban Investment Bank that invests in our own people and in our own cities," Jacob said.
"I'm not presenting this in terms of social responsibility," he said. Rather, Jacob argued, over the next decade nearly half the nation's work force will be made up of minority members and women, and "America can't compete if she continues to warehouse a significant proportion of her work force in poverty and ignorance."
"If America is going to be competitive, she can't do so without investing in human resources," he said.
The next decade presents a "window of opportunity" for the nation to train the poor, minority members and women to fill jobs needed in the next century, Jacob said. The alternative, he suggested, might be for the nation's employers to push for increased numbers of immigrants to fill technical and skilled jobs in the United States.
"If we do not get the African-American community educated fast enough or skilled fast enough, America will indeed find an alternative solution to this problem," he said. "And, clearly, as the walls come tumbling down in Eastern Europe, there is an increasing pool that will be made available."
The Urban League's 331-page report is a compendium of papers prepared by civil rights advocates and scholars addressing topics of concern to black Americans, including the judicial system, housing, family matters, health, crime and the media. As in previous annual reports, the league concluded that "the state of black America remains critical."
The league's Urban Marshall Plan--named for former U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall's massive U.S. foreign aid program to rebuild Western Europe after World War II--is aimed at improving the condition of the nation's cities and minority population.
Jacob said that the $300-billion annual defense budget could be slashed by half "within a few years," providing about $150 billion a year for peaceful and domestic projects.
Specifically, he said, about $100 billion could be spent to reduce the federal deficit and the remaining $50 billion could finance an urban assistance program that develops "our economic infrastructure, renews our cities and moves people out of poverty."
"That is what has become known as the 'peace dividend,' " Jacob said. "What to do with that $150 billion becomes a test of political wisdom."
When asked if he expected this year's call for increased social spending to be more successful than previous requests, Jacob said that the nation's need to compete economically with foreign countries that have better trained work forces, such as Japan, compels policy-makers to be more responsive.