WASHINGTON -- In Barack Obama's first year as president, African-Americans have struggled to bridge a wide equality gap with whites, in particular in the area of jobs, a report said Wednesday.


In the annual "State of Black America" report, the National Urban League (NUL) said black unemployment numbers were nearly double those of whites as "the ravages of the recession" hit minorities much harder than whites.

"These are tough times in America and they require a powerful and immediate response," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the 100-year-old civil rights group.

The "already struggling" African-American community risks falling "deeper into poverty and despair" if nothing is done to help them bridge inequality gaps in everything from health care to jobs to education, said the report.

Blacks were more than twice as likely to be out of a job than whites from 1972 to 2009, and the rate has fallen only slightly since Obama took office with blacks now 1.8 times more likely to be unemployed, the report said.

For the first time this year, Hispanics got their own Equality Index using the social standing of whites as a baseline.

It showed that while they still lag behind, with an overall Equality Index of 75.5 percent against whites, they are faring better than blacks, whose overall Equality Index was 71.8 percent.

But in some areas, such as health care, Hispanics are far behind blacks, who themselves trail whites.

Nearly one in three Hispanics are without health care coverage, compared to one in five blacks -- 19.1 percent -- and around 11 percent of whites, the report said.

Whites are more than one and a half times as likely as blacks and more than twice as likely as Hispanics to have a university degree, it said.

"Education matters more than ever -- those with a bachelor's degree fared much better than high school dropouts in the recession," the report said.

"Education is the true path out of poverty -- education is the civil rights issue of our time. The average black child is two or three grade levels behind the average white child, about half of black students fail to graduate on time and only one in five blacks has a bachelor's degree," it said.

In terms of home ownership, less than half of black and Hispanic families owned their own home, compared to three-quarters of white families who are homeowners.

And blacks and Hispanics were both three times more likely than whites to live below the poverty line.

Another glaring inequity was the huge differences between the incarceration rates of blacks, Hispanics and whites.

Blacks are six times more likely and Hispanics are three times more likely than whites to be incarcerated, the report said.

The only area in which African Americans made strides was in the area of civic engagement, and that was largely due to the huge turnout of black voters in the 2008 presidential elections that put the first African American president in the White House.

The report proposes a 168 billion dollar investment to create jobs, train the chronically unemployed, increase access to credit for small businesses, and counsel those caught up in the property foreclosure crisis, which hit minorities especially hard.

"The government has bailed out Wall Street. It's time to act swiftly and do something for Main Street, which includes a strong, focused jobs plan," said Morial.