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Urban League CEO on how 2022 State of Black America report findings impact midterms

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

The National Urban League's semiannual State of Black America Report gauges how Blacks in this country are doing socially and economically compared to whites. The civil rights organization released its 2022 report last week with what it calls an equality index. And the index concludes that Black Americans are only doing about 74% as well as white Americans. This year, the report focuses on changes to voting laws enacted by dozens of states and calls it a plot to destroy democracy. I'm joined now by Marc Morial. He's president and CEO of the National Urban League. Thank you for being with us.

MARC MORIAL: Hey. Thanks for having me.

ESTRIN: So you've been putting out these equality studies for almost two decades. What are the factors you look at to determine equality between Black and white Americans?

MORIAL: There are about 300 social and economic indicators - everything from the joblessness rate to the homeownership rate to life expectancies to high school graduation rates to college graduation rates to median family income to family net worth. We look at all of these 300 factors, and they're compiled into an index where the condition of white Americans is indexed at one, and the condition of Black Americans is indexed at a percentage of one or greater than one if African Americans outperform whites in a particular area.

This index, which we think is the best, the most reliable and the most accurate indicator of disparities as to social and economic conditions between Blacks and whites, has moved very little in the last 15 or so years. And while these numbers show conditions pre-pandemic, the truth is there was some movement in narrowing median family income. There was some movement when it came to narrowing health disparities. But they were offset by losses in areas such as social justice. So this year, in addition to the index, we put a fine, fine, fine, fine lens on voting and democracy in this country. And we knit together all of the actions that have taken place since the election of Barack Obama when it comes to voting. The Supreme Court's...

ESTRIN: Right. You actually say that there's a, quote, "all-out assault" on voting rights, which can impact Black and brown voters. So specifically, what is going on?

MORIAL: So what is going on is that there is a movement by some bad actors, by some far-right actors, to undermine American democracy. There've been no less than 500 bills that have been proposed in state legislatures since 2009 to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. There's been an assault through the courts on the Voting Rights Act, and the Supreme Court has been an enabler, striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and weakening provisions in several other decisions. All of this when taken together, and when you add to it Vladimir Putin's interference in the 2016 election, which was targeted at dissuading and discouraging African Americans to vote through a propaganda campaign, and you add January 6 and the fact that hundreds of new bills have been introduced and many passed since January 6 - this is a campaign to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. It's targeted at Black Americans and brown Americans, but it impacts others.

ESTRIN: Now, let me...

MORIAL: It impacts our seniors, our disabled and many young voters as well.

ESTRIN: Let me ask you about the Republican politicians who are behind the changes in the voting laws. They say they're responding to their constituents who say they want to prevent voter fraud, and they insist that they're not targeting any one group of voters. So what do you say to those who think that these changes actually strengthen democracy?

MORIAL: Show me a scintilla of evidence that there's voter fraud. Show me some minutia of support for the notion that there's fraud. This is what we call a cover story, another version in a big lie to seek to suggest that there's some - there's no legitimacy to any of this. And those arguments just fail. Republicans historically supported voting rights. Something has happened in the last 10 years. We've got to make the protection of democracy once again a bipartisan exercise to protect the right of all Americans to vote.

ESTRIN: Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, thank you.

MORIAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Kathryn Fox