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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

'Equality gap' cited in need for minimum wage increase

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Keisha Coley has worked minimum wage jobs before, struggling to make ends meet at $5.15 an hour.

Ms. Coley, a manager at Church's Chicken, 2124 Franklin Ave., said when she got a raise, it motivated her to work harder and produce.

She said the National Urban League's push to increase the federal minimum wage will help the pocketbooks and productivity of workers like herself.

The Urban League called for a minimum wage increase to $7.25 and other initiatives this week to help close what they call an "equality gap" between blacks and whites.

The National Urban League's State of Black America 2005 report, released yesterday, stated that despite "societal progress," blacks have not gained equality with whites in economics, health, housing, education, and social justice.

The report states that the economic gap between blacks and whites is larger than any other category.

It noted that the unemployment rate for African-American, 10.8 percent, is more than double that of whites, at 4.7 percent.

Ms. Coley said an increase in the minimum wage would help poor blacks and other underpaid people be more productive and become more a part of their communities.

"I think [an increase] would help a lot," said Ms. Coley, who is married with two daughters and a stepdaughter. "You have bills to pay, and a minimum wage just doesn't make it. When I received my raise, I had a whole new attitude - and I've seen that in other workers."

An effort in Congress to increase the minimum wage last month failed. Many Republicans have said an increase in the minimum wage would force business owners to cut jobs and hurt small businesses.

Ms. Coley's boss, Paul Hubbard, a former Toledo city official and National Urban League board member, said he supports the idea of an increase in minimum wage if the trade-off is better workers.

"You lose money when workers can't complete a task and you lose money when they don't show up to work," said Mr. Hubbard, who stressed improving public education as a top priority. "We're willing to pay people for quality work."

The National Urban League also called for Congress to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, doubling the size of new market tax credits for businesses, and increase Community Development Block Grant funds.

E. Michelle Mickens, executive director of Toledo Central City Neighborhoods, said meager resources from block grant funds prevents community organizations like TCCN from building homes, cleaning neighborhoods, and revitalizing communities.

"When you start to cut funds designed to improve neighbor development, the opposite starts to happen," she said. "You start to see a deterioration in neighborhoods, and we don't have the resources to stop it."

Mayor Jack Ford said he believes the National Urban League report was drawn up from the experience of its president, Marc Morial, when he was mayor of New Orleans and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Mr. Ford said that his own efforts to increase minority participation in the business the city does has been praised and criticized.

He said many of the statistics cited in the Urban League study have remained constant for at least 30 years, but he supports the league's effort in addressing them.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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