Three in four black men without diplomas are unemployed, only one in five Latino ones are
A year ago tomorrow, a 29-year-old black man was shot dead at a Crown Heights barbecue. Newspaper stories billed him as a “father of four,” but he only worked part-time on and off. Nevertheless, interviews with his family revealed something that would flabbergast a poor black person of, say, 1940 brought into our times.Though recalled as a doting father to his children (by three mothers), the fact that he did not spend 40 hours a week providing for their food, clothing and shelter was, at best, a minor issue. In his community, his semi-employment (he was an “aspiring rapper”) was considered normal.
This man was an example of a problem plaguing struggling black communities today: black men in their 20s and 30s who live disconnected from regular work. “Corner men,” they used to call them back in the day — but they were a marginal phenomenon, “characters.” Snapshot statistic: in Indianapolis in 1960, 93% of black men were employed. Today, however, the “corner man” is so common that there is no longer a special term for him.
He is likely a high-school dropout. These days more than half of inner-city black men make that choice, and in 2004, three out of four of these diploma-less men were not working. It is hardly a surprise that this life makes it easy to drift into criminality. Three in five black men without diplomas end up doing time, as do 30% of the ones with only high school diplomas. The man killed in Brooklyn, for instance, had a record.
“It’s the economy, stupid” doesn’t help us here. This disconnect from work became more widespread during the 1990s when, as Georgetown economist Harry Holzer notes, the labor market was the best it had been in 30 years. A certain op-ed page orthodoxy teaches us that the problem is that low-skill manufacturing jobs left cities for the suburbs and beyond.Time and again, studies by social scientists such as Holzer and James H. Johnson show that this can only explain, at best, about a third of the unemployment problem among black men.
Is the other two-thirds of the problem racism? Employers readily admit that they have found inner-city black men to be risky hires. But then, a vast amount of research — again, even by leftleaning and/or black researchers — shows that they very often are risky hires. Alford Young, a black sociologist concerned with this issue, observes from extensively interviewing black men at risk that “some men eventually find jobs but abandon them (if not be dismissed) as soon as problems or tensions arise.” Young is one of many documenting the same: the quick temper is necessary on mean streets, but out of place behind a cash register.
The problem facing us, then, is the kind that makes many uncomfortable: a cultural one. For example, while three in four black men without diplomas are unemployed, only one in five Latino ones are. The norm in black communities has become different than the one in Latino ones, and different even from the black community norm of 40 years ago. The question is how to change this.
Why Has Black Unemployment Risen (Yes, Risen!) In The "Bush Boom"?