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Urban League Study Not Encouraging For Oregon's Black Population

Monday, the Urban League of Portland released the first study in 17 years to look at the state of African Americans in Oregon.

It’s not encouraging.

It finds that blacks remain near the bottom of almost every social and economic measure in the state.

Kristian Foden-Vencil reviewed the 144-page report and files this story.

Many African Americans were encouraged when the nation elected its first black president. Here’s taxi driver, Robert Hamilton, on election night.

Robert Hamilton: “You know, we’re going to be very proud, our chest are going to be pumped out for quite a long time. That’s for dang sure. That’s for dang sure.”

Seven months later however, the report reveals some pretty cold, hard facts. It found that 30 percent of African Americans in Oregon live in poverty — compared to 13 percent of whites.

And whites are twice as likely to own a home.

And it found that while 28 percent of whites hold a bachelor’s degree — only 19 percent of blacks have a degree.

Marcus Mundy, the president of the Urban League of Portland, discussed the statistics on OPB’s Think Out Loud  program.

 Tony Morgan
 Tony Morgan

Marcus Mundy: “Any one stat. wasn’t surprising to me. But the totality of it, looking at all of these indicators all at once, and all of them being so challenging. That was a little surprising to me.”

Mundy said that of all the indicators, the most troubling are economic in nature: that is the lack of jobs for African Americans; the inability to raise capital; and the difficulties in getting a good education.

They are indicators that are well known to Tony Morgan.

He works 40 hours a week collecting and repairing garbage cans. He doesn't make very much money doing that, so when he gets home he has another job.

Tony Morgan: “What I’m doing is actually tearing down a trailer. And so you’ve got to clean the inside of it out — tearing out the carpet out of it, all the wood off the sides if it. To scrap it out.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil: “How much did it cost you to buy and how much will you get out of it?”

Tony Morgan: “It was given me for free. This one here about $200 bucks.  It is pretty physical. But hey, if you’re not making enough money, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I’ve got two kids and I’m pretty much supporting the grandbaby.”

 Tony Morgan
 Tony Morgan works at tearing apart a trailer.

At 49, Morgan would like to find work that’s a less physical and more lucrative. But he faces an obstacle that’s not uncommon among black men — African Americans in Oregon are six times more likely than whites to have been incarcerated according the report.

Tony Morgan: “My one set back is my criminal history, which is expunged.  Even though you’ve paid your debt to society, you’re still paying another debt to society. My, criminal history, as far as my last conviction is 20-years-old.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil: “How many jobs have you applied to where that has come up as an issue.”

Tony Morgan: “I can count ten at least on my hands right now.”

The report finds that fathers are often absent from African American families. It’s an issue that strikes at the heart of what Morgan is trying to do.

He grew up without a dad and he’s determined that’s not going to happen to his son, who’s now a high school junior.

Tony Morgan: “Ever since he was a little bitty baby, I was, hey man, you’re going to got to college, you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to be an engineer. You’re going to do something that your dad never did.”

Morgan doesn’t talk about overt racism. The problems he faces, he says, are more subtle.

Urban League president, Marcus Mundy, says the same. He talks about problems with the structural underpinning of the whole system, that get passed on from one generation to the next.

Marcus Mundy: “One of the largest indicators of wealth for a community is how many people own their home. Because of historical exclusion laws, because of neighborhoods where blacks were unable to buy, because of mortgage policies at banks, because of redlining. There were periods decades ago where blacks were unable to purchase homes. They missed that opportunity to have those homes, build that wealth, which then allows them to miss the opportunity to send their kids to college and because of that, they’ve missed a generation or two of wealth building. So a generation or two of being able to start your own busines. It’s all linked up together.”

The report contains a raft of policy recommendations, that include giving blacks better access to capital.

But it also charges African American families - especially fathers — with taking more responsibility for their kids. 

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