Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn
by Erik Eckholm
Published on Monday, March 20, 2006 by the New York Times
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, by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions, 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.
"There's something very different happening with young black men, and it's something we can no longer ignore," said Ronald B. Mincy, professor of social work at Columbia University and editor of "Black Males Left Behind" (Urban Institute Press, 2006).
"Over the last two decades, the economy did great," Mr. Mincy said, "and low-skilled women, helped by public policy, latched onto it.
But young black men were falling farther back."
In response to the worsening situation for young black men, a growing number of programs are placing as much importance on teaching life skills --- like parenting, conflict resolution and character building --- as they are on teaching job skills.
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.
"I was with the street life, but now I feel like I've got to get myself together," Mr. Brannon said recently in the row-house flat he shares with his girlfriend and four children.
A group of men, including Mr. Brannon, gathered at the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development, one of several private agencies trying to help men build character along with workplace skills.
"If a man wants to change, why won't society give him a chance to prove he's a changed person?"
Mr. Baker has a lot of record to overcome, he admits, not least his recent 15-year stay in the state penitentiary for armed robbery.
Mr. Baker led a visitor down the Pennsylvania Avenue strip he wants to escape --- past idlers, addicts and hustlers, storefront churches and fortresslike liquor stores --- and described a life that seemed inevitable.
Terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue collar jobs and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work have all been cited as causes of the deepening ruin of black youths.
Closer studies reveal that in inner cities across the country, more than half of all black men still do not finish high school, said Gary Orfield, an education expert at Harvard and editor of "Dropouts in America" (Harvard Education Press, 2004).
Dropout rates for Hispanic youths are as bad or worse but are not associated with nearly as much unemployment or crime, the data show.
By 2004, 50 percent of black men in their 20's who lacked a college education were jobless, as were 72 percent of high school dropouts, according to data compiled by Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton and author of the forthcoming book "Punishment and Inequality in America" (Russell Sage Press).
Mr. Holzer of Georgetown and his co-authors cite two factors that have curbed black employment in particular.
First, the high rate of incarceration and attendant flood of former offenders into neighborhoods have become major impediments.
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