National Urban League President Marc Morial speaks in Charlotte on poverty, economic mobility

The president of the National Urban League, speaking in Charlotte this week, called for a collaborative effort from the private sector along with local, state and federal governments to address problems of poverty, minorities and economic mobility.

Former two-term mayor of New Orleans Marc Morial opened a panel discussion at the Urban League of Central Carolinas on Wednesday.

According to the Urban League of Central Carolinas, a recent Equality of Opportunity Project study conducted by Harvard University, the University of California, Berkley, and the Treasury Department showed that Charlotte-Mecklenburg County ranks lowest in the economic mobility of people in poverty and minorities out of the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S.

The personal finance social network Wallethub cites Charlotte as the best city for high-salaried individuals.

From the national league’s just-released State of Black Americans report focusing on 80 cities, Morial cited statistics for Charlotte.

Median household income for African-Americans is $36,000; whites, $62,000; and Latinos, $39,000. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is 16.8 percent; for whites, 8 percent; and for Latinos, 11 percent.

The disparity between Charlotte’s black and white rates are higher than the average national unemployment rate, Morial said.

Charlotte educational statistics show that 21.7 percent of African-Americans obtained bachelor’s degrees. That figure for whites was 38.7 percent. Eighty-six percent of African-Americans graduated from high school, while 91 percent of whites graduated.

Morial said the disparities are part of a national trend and pose a huge challenge for the country, requiring everybody to work together toward solutions.

In reviewing President Lyndon Johnson’s five years in office, Morial emphasized the importance of Johnson’s push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act and the War on Poverty.

“During that five-year period gigantic leaps took place,” Morial said. “It was a time when big things happened.”

Social and economic mobility were realities during those times, but then came the biggest economic downtown since the Great Depression.

Rebuilding the nation will “require some sense of vision,” Morial said.

He suggested raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour; a long-term program to rebuild and repair infrastructure such as highways, bridges, sewer and water systems; and a greater focus on partnerships.

The national league is developing a job-training program and expanding its work with entrepreneurs as ways to deal with the problems.

Morial praised efforts by the Urban League of Central Carolinas in such areas as a partnership focused on small business and an innovative job-training program.

Taking part in the panel discussion were Heath Morrison, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; Anika Khan, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities LLC; Carol Hardison, executive director of the Crisis Assistance Ministry; and Hilda Gurdian, president/CEO of La Noticia Spanish Language News.

Morrison cited the need for public schools to serve all children; a commitment to early childhood programs; and “an honest conversation about where we are and where we’re going together.”

During a question-and-answer session, Morial responded to a question about how to hold elected officials accountable.

“Vote with a vengeance,” he said. “Do not vote by not voting. Our power to hold people accountable comes through the ballot box. It’s basic. It’s absolutely basic.”