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Blacks far from parity with whites, report says

In areas ranging from jobs to home ownership to politics, blacks continue to make gains, but equality with whites remains a far-off goal, the National Urban League says in its annual report on the state of black America.

The report, a collection of eight essays written by experts in fields such as labor, home ownership and civil rights, is intended to capture an annual snapshot of blacks in America. The first one was published in 1976.

Among the highlights of the report:

+ During the 1990s, black unemployment fell to its lowest level in 30 years. The rate of poverty among black families fell to 26 percent, the lowest ever recorded, Bernard Anderson, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says in the essay "The Black Worker: Continuing Quest for Economic Parity."

Yet black workers have been hit harder by the recession than others. In June, the unemployment rate for whites was 5.2 percent; for blacks it was more than twice that, 10.7 percent.

+ In the workplace, blacks are about twice as likely to hold lower-paying, less-prestigious service jobs. About 20 percent of blacks hold professional or managerial jobs, while more than 30 percent of whites do. Less than 1 percent of certified public accountants, for example, are black, Theresa Young, associate professor of accounting at Boston College says in the essay "Holding the Accountants Accountable: Why are there so few African-American CPAs?"

+ Compared to whites and the rest of the nation, blacks are still stuck in the pre-civil rights era when it comes to owning their homes. For whites, the homeownership rate is 74 percent. For blacks, it is 48 percent _ the national rate in the 1940s.

+ There were more than 9,000 black elected officials in the year 2000 _ more than at any other time in the nation's history, the report says, drawing on data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Death penalty may be

sought in girl's slaying

STANTON, Calif. _ The district attorney said Sunday he is reviewing whether to seek the death penalty against the man arrested in the kidnap and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

Alejandro Avila, 27, was set to be arraigned today on charges of abducting, sexually assaulting and strangling the girl, the Orange County prosecutor's office said.

District Attorney Tony Rackackaus said he would meet with Samantha's family as well as Avila's attorneys before making the decision.

"After I review what they have to say with my staff and also review the evidence, then I'll decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty," Rackackaus said on NBC's Today show.

California law permits prosecutors to seek the death penalty against murder defendants if special circumstances exist, such as the commission of another crime.

Funeral services for Samantha were pending. Late Saturday night her mother, Erin Runnion, broke a long silence and met with well-wishers in the courtyard of the townhome complex where a massive memorial of flowers, candles, cards and toys has appeared.

"You are truly wonderful to us," she said, and warned people: "Take care of your babies. Take care of each other's babies."