unemployment of African American men

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Mon Jul 19 2004 - 13:30:56 EDT

An Emerging Catastrophe

Published: July 19, 2004

Drive through some of the black neighborhoods in
cities and towns across America and you will see the
evidence of an emerging catastrophe - levels of male
joblessness that mock the very idea of stable, viable

This slow death of the hopes, pride and well-being of
huge numbers of African-Americans is going unnoticed
by most other Americans and by political leaders of
both parties.

A new study of black male employment trends has come
up with the following extremely depressing finding:
"By 2002, one of every four black men in the U.S. was
idle all year long. This idleness rate was twice as
high as that of white and Hispanic males."

It's possible the rate of idleness is even higher,
said the lead author of the study, Andrew Sum, who is
director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at
Northeastern University in Boston.

"That was a conservative count," he said. The study
did not consider homeless men or those in jail or
prison. It is believed that up to 10 percent of the
black male population under age 40 is incarcerated.

While some of the men not working undoubtedly were ill
or disabled, the 25 percent figure is still
staggeringly high. And for some segments of the black
male population, the situation is even worse.

Among black male dropouts, for example, 44 percent
were idle year-round, as were nearly 42 of every 100
black men aged 55 to 64.

"I was surprised by the magnitude of the population
that was idle all year-round," said Professor Sum.
"Typically, some groups will find work part of the
year, but not the other part, and you end up with a
high joblessness rate. But here we've got a growing
number of men just not working at all."

Black men, already in an employment crisis, were hit
particularly hard by the last recession and have not
done well in the fitful recovery that followed.
Jobless rates for some subgroups, black teenagers for
example, have been all but off the charts.

Professor Sum and his colleagues got closer than
official statistics usually get to the dismal
employment reality of black men by using the so-called
employment-population ratio, which represents the
percentage of a given population that is employed at a
given time. The government's official unemployment
statistics are often misleading, particularly because
people who have stopped looking for work are not

Things fall apart when 25 percent of the male
population is jobless. (This does not even begin to
address the very serious problems of underemployment,
such as part-time or temporary jobs, and extremely
low-wage work.) Men in a permanent state of
joblessness are in no position to take on the roles of
husband and father. Marriage? Forget about it. Child
support? Ditto.

For the most part, jobless men are not viewed as
marriageable material by women. And they are hardly
role models for young people.

Those who remain jobless for a substantial period of
time run the risk of becoming permanently

This is a tragic situation for the men and their
families and a serious problem for society at large.
Such a huge all-but-permanently-unemployed population
is an obstacle to efforts to achieve full employment
and its accompanying benefits. These men are not
contributing to tax revenues and they are consuming
public and social services. And some, inevitably, are
engaged in criminal and other anti-social behavior.

Figuring out ways to get this population gainfully
employed would turn a net societal deficit into a real

Finally, it's just wrong to allow so many Americans to
remain in a state of social and economic degradation
without attempting to alter the conditions responsible
for their suffering.

Education is one of the keys here. As Professor Sum
found, 44 percent of black men with no high school
diploma were idle year-round versus 26 percent of
those with a diploma, and 13 percent of those with a
bachelor's (or higher) degree.

The distance from the idleness of the street corner to
the warmth of a thriving family is not really that
far, especially when a helping hand is offered. But
we'll never offer the helping hand if we fail to
recognize that there's a problem.


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