Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The plight of African-American men
According to a raft of new studies from Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other Universities:

BALTIMORE — Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics, a flurry of new scholarly studies warn, and it has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black women and other groups.

Focusing more closely than ever on the life patterns of young black men, the new studies ... show that the huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men.

Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined.

Although the problems afflicting poor black men have been known for decades, the new data paint a more extensive and sobering picture of the challenges they face.
Among the low-lights:

¶The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

¶Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.

¶In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school. ...

...First, the high rate of incarceration and attendant flood of former offenders into neighborhoods have become major impediments. Men with criminal records tend to be shunned by employers, and young blacks with clean records suffer by association, studies have found.

Arrests of black men climbed steeply during the crack epidemic of the 1980's, but since then the political shift toward harsher punishments, more than any trends in crime, has accounted for the continued growth in the prison population, Mr. Western said.

By their mid-30's, 30 percent of black men with no more than a high school education have served time in prison, and 60 percent of dropouts have, Mr. Western said.

Among black dropouts in their late 20's, more are in prison on a given day — 34 percent — than are working — 30 percent — according to an analysis of 2000 census data by Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley..

The second special factor is related to an otherwise successful policy: the stricter enforcement of child support. Improved collection of money from absent fathers has been a pillar of welfare overhaul. But the system can leave young men feeling overwhelmed with debt and deter them from seeking legal work, since a large share of any earnings could be seized.

About half of all black men in their late 20's and early 30's who did not go to college are noncustodial fathers, according to Mr. Holzer. From the fathers' viewpoint, support obligations "amount to a tax on earnings," he said.
The implications of these studies are staggering, if unexpected (I would have thought AA men did much better during the '90s...)

In Florida, the dropout rate for Black kids is still at around 50 percent, higher than for any other group. And the cycle of joblessness, crime, marginalization and depoliticization (including the loss of voting rights in nine states including Florida for those with felony convictions) can only help to continue wrecking urban communities -- especially small inner city communities that either haven't attracted the attention of developers yet, or that have, and therefore are ripe for eminent domain and other techniques to "cleanse" them of the undesirable poor.

The imperative now is to find some solutions. One that I could think of off the bat, is a move to change the culture of "Black America." If I see one more commercial for a gangsta movie or CD, I think I'll puke. We've got to start modeling more productive ideas to our young men, rather than just materialism, mysogyny, sexual promiscuity (including bisexual promiscuity) and the relentless pursuit of a fictional, rented house, rented jewelry gangsta lifestyle. What are you saying about yourself and your community when you finally land a record deal, and choose to call your label Murder, Inc. or Death Row? And why are you surprised when the feds pay it extra attention? (Hollywood hasn't exactly been helpful with its glorification of pimps and gangstas both in the greenlighting process, and during the recent Oscars...)

I blame a lot of this on BET, which has pumped cultural toxic waste into Black living rooms for nearly 30 years, with barely a break for positive, informative programming. A lot also has to do with the rap music industry, which has traded on the nihilistic rot of street culture as a way to make a few phony thugs rich at the expense of the good sense of millions of African-American kids. And the slide of American culture away from the necessity of fathers hasn't helped -- clearly, kids do need them, along with present, lucid mothers.

It's important to note that by no means are all Black men in this miserable condition. For every knucklehead, there are upstanding men out there doing the right thing -- even doing big things -- and taking care of themselves and their families and going to work everyday. But clearly, it's time for a house cleaning in the larger Black community. We may not like it, but it's long overdue.

Update: Not everyone weighing in on the issue is Black, because as this writer points out, the fate of African-American men impacts us all.

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posted by JReid @ 12:23 AM  
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