SAN FRANCISCO — Angrily disputing statistics on black poverty cited by the National Urban League president, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. said Monday that blacks are better off now than before President Reagan came into office.
"It's very hard for me to say mathematically or statistically, but (blacks) have more opportunity now than they had before because the economy was just not that good," Pierce said at a news conference after a luncheon address to the National Urban League.
Pierce said more black workers are employed today than ever before.
"I think our country is doing better," he said. "I think opportunities are better. When you say, 'Are black people doing better?' I think, in a way, yes."
National Urban League President John E. Jacob, in his keynote speech on Sunday, said blacks have not shared in the nation's economic growth during the last six years. He attacked the "new selfishness" of American society and called for a renewed commitment to helping the poor and defending civil rights.
Jacob said that since the Urban League last convened in San Francisco in 1974, there has been a "slippery slide away from our goal of equality." He urged the federal government to reverse the trend.
"A dozen years does make a difference," he said. "For black Americans, it is the difference between bad conditions and intolerable ones, between marginal status and no status."
Black unemployment has grown from 10% to 15% since 1974, Jacob said, and black family income has slipped in relation to white family income. During that same span, the percentage of poor black people also has grown from 28% to 33%, Jacob said.
Pierce questioned the figures used by Jacob and said statistics are easy to manipulate. In response, an Urban League spokesman said Monday that the figures cited by Jacob are from official government sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.
In his luncheon speech to Urban League members, Pierce said housing discrimination remains a serious national problem.
"What kind of liberty, what kind of justice, allows people, because of race, to deprive a family of the home they seek? This is not my kind of liberty, nor my kind of justice," he told an audience of 1,500.
"The subtlety and sophistication of current discrimination render it no less demeaning or dispiriting to the people and communities involved, nor to any who consider themselves proud and loyal Americans."