Significant economic disparities continue to separate blacks and whites in urban America, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the National Urban League, the nation's oldest and largest organization dedicated to social and economic empowerment for black Americans.

After a decade in which black Americans began to see a drop in the unemployment rate and gains in income, the new report, The State of Black America 2005, says the African American community today is marked by economic stagnation. It calls on the White House and the U.S. Congress to set new national priorities and policies to reverse the country's widening racial inequalities.

The backbone of the Urban League report is a so-called equality index, a statistical measurement of disparities between blacks and whites. The Philadelphia-based research group Global Insight compiled the data, which considered gaps in wages, housing, education, health, social justice and civic participation.

Global Insight managing director James Diffley says according to the index the overall well being of blacks showed no gains from the previous year. "That is, black Americans' status in a measurable sense is 27% below that of whites in America," he says. "Median income for black Americans was only 61% that of white Americans in our index. There are more than twice as many black Americans, 24% in fact, living below the poverty line, than there are white Americans living below the poverty line.

The report says blacks are also twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. "This information is sobering, but these are the facts," says Urban League President Marc Morial.

Speaking at the Urban League annual meeting in Washington, he warned that the predominately white affluent class puts blacks and other Americans at risk. "And, it will soon begin to leave middle class America behind, urban America behind," he says. "It will leave the families of Hispanic and Latin American citizens behind also. I think we must embrace a shared view, that economic suffering anywhere threatens economic prosperity everywhere."

The State of Black America 2005 makes a number of recommendations to reduce the widening economic gap. These include extending the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raising the minimum wage, increasing business development in African American urban communities, and expanding job training.

Mr. Morial also announced that his organization had sent a letter to the White House and Congress urging the creation of a special non-partisan commission to study economic opportunity and business growth in the United States. "We need members from both parties (and) both houses of Congress to get together to realize that it is their responsibility to provide economic opportunity for all of our citizens," he says, "because this is the civil rights issue of the 21st century."

Mr. Morial also challenged black Americans to play a more active role in civic life. "If we continue to make our voices heard," he said, "we will not only stop the backslide, but start a new crusade to move this nation forward toward a shared goal of economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans."