A soon to be released report from the Washington, DC based Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “Feel the Heat! The Unrelenting Challenge of Young Black Male Unemployment: Policies and Practices that Can Make a Difference,” details the extent to which young Black men have been left behind in the economy. The report examines the consequences of mass incarceration, failed educational policy and the absence of federal support for employment and training programs as underlying causes for the dire circumstances facing African-American males.
The report notes that the recession dealt a “knock-out” blow to young Black men and details the precipitous drop in the proportion of Black males who are employed as compared to their white peers. The only group faring worse than Black men in the economy is Hispanic males and they are challenged in many instances by language and legal status barriers. In pre-recession 2007 the employment-ratio for white males age 20-24 was 74.8 percent and for Black males it was 59.1 percent. In post-recession 2012, the rate for white males was 67.6 percent and for Black males it was 49.5 percent. Similarly Black males faced a dramatic decline in full-time employment. Using census date, CLASP reveals that between 2007 and 2013 Black males age 20-24 experienced a 30.2 percent drop in full-time employment while white males had a 20 percent drop.
According to the report Black men are also clustered in low-wage occupational categories, with nearly half of all working Black men trapped in jobs that pay the lowest wages. Conversely, Black men are scarce among high-wage earners despite a slight increase (20% to 23%) in the proportion of African-American males in management and professional occupations since 2003. One of the factors fueling the low-wage reality of Black men is educational attainment. African-American males have made gains in high school and college completion rates since 1970. For example, college enrollment for young Black men doubled from 16% in 1970 to 33% in 2012. Still, young Black men lag far behind their white male counterparts in educational attainment. In 2010, the 4-year high school graduate rate for white males was 78 percent and for Black males 52 percent. The proportion of Black males age 20-24 with some college was 37 percent and 49 percent for white males. White males age 20-24 were twice as likely to have a 2 or 4 year college degree as young Black men.
In focus groups of young Black men, one participant said, “If you’re straight out of high school then of course you don’t have any experience and if you don’t have any experience they aren’t trying to give you a job.”
The CLASP report also notes the crippling impact of mass incarceration on young Black men. Among the statistics cited:
• Black men 18 and 19 years of age were imprisoned at more than nine times the rate of white males
• Black men 20 to 24 were imprisoned at more than seven times the rate of young white men
• When surveyed 60% of employers indicated they would not hire an ex-offender
The report also suggests that as technology makes criminal background data more accessible, the result is worse labor market outcomes for ex-offenders. With the undeniable high profile of young Black men in correctional facilities, the reaction of employers to the formerly incarcerated fuels high rates of unemployment and subsequently also impacts the stability of families and neighborhoods in the African-American community.
Given the challenges facing young Black men the report will make several recommendations for public policy and practices that can begin to repair some of the damage inflicted upon this group. CLASP touches upon several areas that have received scant attention from policy makers, such as the disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates of young Black men in public schools, the lack of community-level support systems, and the absence of a meaningful “pipeline” to connect youth from low-income communities to good-wage jobs in growth sectors in the economy. Other recommendations include investing in job creation through subsidized employment in the public and private sectors, setting high expectations for public systems that interact with young Black men and investing in aggressive action to prevent dropouts and connect young Black men with education and training opportunities.
The release of the CLASP report comes at a time when the economy is showing some signs of recovery but monthly employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal the extent to which African-American labor market participation continues to lag behind whites.