It is common knowledge that black men have significantly lower employment rates than those of other demographic groups. It is less known that this wasn't always the case. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1969, the employment rates for men between the ages of 20 and 24 were about 77% for blacks and 79% for whites. By 2012, the employment rate for young black men dropped to less than 50%, while young white men were about 18 percentage points higher at almost 68%. What happened?
Young black men often lack support systems and early opportunities to properly prepare them for the job market. They enter the workforce at a disadvantage that can continue throughout their lives. Their lack of skills and experience leads to higher unemployment rates, lower wages, and fewer advancement opportunities than those of their white peers. This crisis is especially pronounced in cities like Chicago, where black teen unemployment has reached an unbelievable 92%, according to the Chicago Urban League.
The connection between the unemployment rates of black men and the low educational attainment and high incarceration rates of this group is obvious. The high school graduation rate of black men, currently at 73%, is still 10 percentage points below that of white men. Black men are also half as likely as white men to obtain a college degree by age 24. These educational discrepancies confer lasting effects on young black men, who are consistently frustrated in their efforts to obtain higher-wage jobs.
None of these trends and statistics are news to us. The question is, what are we doing about it?
President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper), announced in February, is a welcome, if long-overdue, step in the right direction. The goal of the initiative is to work with leading foundations and businesses to "take a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color."
However, as we seek to save the next generation of black men, we cannot...