"Collectively, the pathway data show that more than 51 percent of Hispanic males, 45 percent of African American males, 42 percent of Native American males, and 33 percent of Asian American males ages 15 to 24 will end up unemployed, incarcerated or dead."
The prognosis above is a finding from a recent College Board report, The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color; a review of the research and career pathways of young men of color. At a time when Black men have fared worse among all adult groups during the recession, and show little sign of being a part of a weak recovery, the report should set off alarms within the Black community. With the nation’s demographics shifting, as seen in the results of the 2010 Census, people of color will soon become the nation’s majority. Yet, these same “minority” groups lag in educational attainment and are not positioned for the emerging opportunities in a knowledge-based economy that will be heavily dependent upon industries reliant on workers with skills in math, science and technology. The report notes that the United States will need to produce an additional 13.4 million college graduates by 2020 to meet the goal of 55 percent of adults ages 25-34 possessing an associate degree or higher. African-Americans will need to earn an additional 1.9 million college degrees for the nation to meet that goal.
The report frames the dilemma by pointing out that as of 2008, only 41.6 percent of 25 to 34 year olds had attained an associate degree or higher. Even worse for the Black community only 30.3 percent of African-Americans were among that group compared to 49 percent of white Americans. The disparity is even greater when considering Black males. Only 28.1 percent of Black men possess an associate degree or higher. The obstacles to higher educational attainment become apparent as the report notes the “achievement gap,” drop-out rates and patterns of suspensions and expulsions of Black males in secondary education. One of the most telling admissions the report makes is that despite the nation’s awareness of the unique challenges facing Black males, there was no specific policy initiatives directed toward this group until recently. The report notes that two researchers, Futz and Brown, “posited that although the historical literature clearly demonstrates that the role of African American men in American society had been troublesome since the age of slavery, there were no education policy initiatives targeted at this group until the final two decades of the 20th century.” Among all minority male groups, Black males were most likely to be suspended, expelled or forced to repeat a grade. The report details that in 2007, “Black males were twice as likely to be suspended and more than five times as likely to be expelled as the next highest racial/ethnic group.” Just as alarming, for the same year, 26 percent of Black males were reported to have repeated a grade compared to 12 percent of Hispanic males and 11 percent of white males. Cited as barriers to educational success for Black males, and other minority males, is support in schools, teacher expectations or caring teachers, caring counselors or counselor engagement, positive teacher-student relationships, and lack of family support.
The College Board report was released at a time when the 40th anniversary of the nation’s “War on Drugs,” is receiving attention from some Black organizations that are pointing attention to the failure of U.S. drug policy and the devastating impact it has had on the Black community. The report notes that one of the destinations for high school dropouts is federal prisons or local jails. In 2008, among 18 to 24 year olds who were incarcerated, a population of over 475,000, males accounted for 92.4 percent of all inmates. Among minority males 15 to 24 years old with a high school diploma and incarcerated, Blacks represented 9.9 percent – highest among all racial/ethnic groups. Among 18 to 24 year-old men who are imprisoned, 42.2 percent are Black men compared to 29.7 percent who are white, despite the fact that Black males make up only 7 percent of the nation’s population. The racial and gender difference is stark. Though Black women are 28.9 percent of incarcerated women ages 18 to 24, white women comprise 44.4 percent of that group. It is clear that young Black men most likely have negative experiences – placement in lower academic groups and special education, suspension, expulsion, dropping out – that lead to negative life outcomes – incarceration, unemployment and death.
Among minority males 15-24 years old with a high school diploma and unemployed in 2008, 34.4 percent were Black males, and among unemployed African-Americans overall, 52.6 percent are men. The report details that among 18 to 24 year olds who died in 2008, 77.5 percent of African-Americans in this group were men. Only Hispanic males (79.4 percent) represented a larger share of a particular racial/ethnic group than Black men.
The report frames a much larger issue for Black Americans; that being the challenge of creating appropriate pathways for success for young Black men in an economy that is increasingly dependent upon workers with advanced skills and credentials. Where a high school degree became a necessity for economic security at the turn of the 20th century, the new standard is postsecondary education or some high-level skill attainment to be workforce ready. As the College Board report notes in its review of the current research and progress of minority males, there is an enormous vacuum in the policy response to this full blown crisis. The data cited in the report appears to challenge current initiatives that are invested in tactics that have shown little success in improving outcomes for young Black men, and demands new approaches as well as patience in testing some pilot projects currently underway that could prove to be more effective in elevating the life chances of young Black men.