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Overcoming Baltimore's issues

The recent events in Baltimore are all too familiar to those of us who lived through the late 1960s, when riots broke out in major U.S. cities. President Lyndon Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission in 1967 to investigate the conditions that led to those events. When the commission's report was released in the next year it concluded that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal."

For large segments of the African American population, not nearly enough has changed. For them, the American Dream remains on hold.

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Recently, the Democratic members of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, working in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a report on the economic challenges facing African Americans today. It found that vast disparities remain:

•The current unemployment rate for African Americans, 10.2 percent, is more than double the rate for white Americans.

•The median income of African American households is nearly $24,000 less than the median income of white households.

•The median net worth of white households is 13 times greater than the net worth of black households.

We plan to explore these startling inequities at a Congressional Black Caucus and Joint Economic Committee forum to be held Tuesday morning at the University of Baltimore. Academic experts, public officials and community leaders will attempt to help us understand the conditions that gave rise to the recent events in Baltimore and other cities and how we might overcome them.

Research prepared for the forum shows that economic disparities in Baltimore are even greater than those found nationwide. The 2013 unemployment rate for African Americans in the city was more than two-and-a-half times higher than the rate for whites; the income gap between African American and white households is nearly $30,000 — $6,000 more than the national average; and the poverty rate for African Americans in the city is 27 percent, nearly double the rate for whites.

In Baltimore and in the nation as a whole, we remain a society in which black and white are "separate and unequal."

Extreme inequality is corrosive. It hurts children, it hurts families, and it hurts our economy. It consigns millions of Americans to marginal status, weakening the bonds of civil society and of our democracy.

The recent events in Baltimore and other cities must be seen in this context. The reaction to the violent deaths of Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and too many others to count did not happen in a vacuum.

Statistics on unemployment, income, poverty and wealth tell only a small part of the story — we must also understand the broader social issues that define our communities.

But careful study of economic data can help parse complex issues. A single number can inspire us to action. We will be one step closer to achieving a more just society when everyone knows all too well that a black American is still twice as likely to be unemployed as a white American, or that a typical white household has 13 times more wealth than a typical black household.

It's time to acknowledge the truth revealed by the data: America is still not a land of equal opportunity for all. It's time to take the American dream off hold and make it a reality for everyone.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Twitter: @OfficialCBC. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, is the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee; Twitter: @RepMaloney. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Twitter: @RepCummings. The forum will be live streamed at http://pointers.audiovideoweb.com/stcasx/nj45winlive9756/play.asx.

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