Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I know it will make me sound clueless and out of touch to say so, but while I knew it was bad, I didn't know it was this bad. 21 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison in 2004. 50 percent of black men in their 20's who lacked a college education were jobless.

There are many reasons for us all to worry about this. Among them is the practical concern of creating a permanent, hopeless, in many cases literally disenfranchised underclass. But chief among them is that we should be morally ashamed to write off any Americans. John Edwards is the only national political candidate I know of to talk about poverty in any meaningful way in recent years, and that's just pathetic.

I surfed around to see what other blog commentary I could find on this article, and came up with very, very little. I'd have thought more people would be writing on it. Continued below.

One smart comment informs me that I am, indeed, clueless and out of touch:

I had this instant feeling upon reading the title and content of the news article that "we" (meaning, people who study race, class and other issues of inequality) are preaching the same sermon over and over again. I wonder how many people will be surprised to learn (again) that poverty has deepened for black men, particularly those without a high school educationf? As the economy continues to squeeze out opportunities for the middle-class and poor communities, this problem is universal. The real income of all workers (and certainly the economic status of nonworkers) has continued to slide since the middle-to-latter part of the 20th century. The New York Times article makes this point subtly. The researchers apparently linked "black male poverty" (perhaps this could become a term of art) to broader economic conditions. Others, such as William Julius Wilson, have long made these connections. The status of working class individuals gets even worse in periods of economic decline.
But the current and prior research raises the question of race and gender as well - why do these structural problems seem to present greater barriers to poor black men? I will certainly read this study to see how it measures the "gains" of other groups, such as black women and Latinos. The article suggests that the researchers attribute access to "welfare" as a vehicle for the economic advancement of poor black women in particular. Although subsidies for poor individuals have certainly provided some economic support, these programs have been curtailed and subject to greater restrictions (because, of course, the recipients become very comfortable being poor and draining society of resources). Also, if single mothers who receive welfare have primary responsibilty for raising their children, then any analysis of their economic status must take the costs of parenting into account. Nevertheless, I generally agree with the sentiment expressed at the end of the article - researchers have not sufficiently analyzed the ways in which gender (as it intersects with poverty and race) creates particularized experiences for men of color. But I would not suggest that we have done nearly enough to address the problems of poor women of color (assuming these are separable). In fact, as Dorothy Roberts has persuasively argued, welfare - the very resource that the researchers point to as providing larger gains for black women - has often reinforced their isolation and stigmatization.

Booman writes:

Ending the Drug War is the single most productive thing we could do to help black men get a step up in American society.

The Drug War has swept up such a large population of black men that almost every urban black family knows an uncle, or a cousin, that has been impacted. Sometimes they are the victims of drug-related crime, other times their loved ones have wound up in prison. Doing time loses its sense of shame, and therefore the threat of doing time loses a lot of its deterrent effect. There is a certain snowball effect that has occurred. When the neighborhoods are filled with men that cannot find legitimate work because of their criminal record, a failure to look for legitimate work loses its sense of shame. And finding illegal sources of income, being the simpler path, also loses its sense of shame.

In short, the Drug War erodes the culture. It reinforces itself. It legitimizes and excuses crime.

Any comprehensive program that aims to tackle the problem of black male unemployment, must put an end to the Drug War front and center as the single most important piece.

The starting point should be ending mandatory sentencing.

And there's an intelligent discussion going on in the comments there.

Of course, conservative commenters at a Pajamas Media site were as insightful as always:

Black men weren't left behind, they were tripped up and deliberately kept back by the poverty pimps and liberal Democrats who used them to gain power and money for themselves. Welfare destroyed the family so few positive black male figures are in their lives, the drug culture puts them in prison or the cemetery, the unions keep them out of good job opportunities and the public schools tell them they're too incompetent to compete in the "white" world and need to stay in custodial care in order to survive.


The hip-hop, rap culture does not promote much beyond jumping around, now does it?


Illegitimacy is the downfall to any society, 34% of all American children are born illegitimate. The black illegitimacy rate is 68%. The white illegitimacy rate is 23%. A vast majority of these children have very little contact with their biological fathers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this will leads to many more problems.

Which tells me that the right half of the country is not going to be a serious part of the solution. (Incidentally, I orginally thought that post was some major snark, since its one line of commentary is "Lucky we got our first black president in 2000." But I'm more and more convinced it's dead serious.)


Tapped has something to say too.

What's so troubling there is that black men are going in the wrong direction even as societal trends move in the right direction. When you have an increase in joblessness and incarceration amidst a decrease in unemployment and crime rates, you're looking at a seriously screwed up subset of society -- in America, folks aren't supposed to drown during a rising tide. To some degree, macro trends are to blame here, particularly the increasingly tough situation for unskilled workers (it's here that I'm glad John Edwards, even if he doesn't know James Q. Wilson, is a devoted follower of William Julius Wilson, who handles this stuff in-depth. For more on him, check out this interview).

But even granting the deteriorating condition for unskilled urban workers, black men are doing uniquely poorly, even compared to black women. That's to be expected: as a society, we've put a fair amount of thought and effort into improving the prospects of black women, offering them Medicaid as soon as they become pregnant and welfare -- complete with job training and matching services -- once they give birth. Childless black men are eligible for neither, and their deteriorating condition has attracted almost no societal notice, save spurring politicians to find new and ever more inventive ways to jail them and then denounce their parental irresponsibility.

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  • At 4:37 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Wait I thought the figure in NY was that 1/3 of black men under 30 are either in prison or have been in prison.

    Yeah, this is a big part of the whole "drop the Rock" coalition's argument. Google "felony disenfranchisement" and you'll find lots of stuff about the racist Rockefeller Drug Laws, for instance, as a way of disenfranchising black men.

    I first came across the problem when doing voter registration like ten years ago or something and half the black men I talked to were like "sorry, not eligible," and the people I was working with explained about the disproportionate impact of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The sad thing is that it happened so often that I would say we often skipped black men when trying to get people to register (since we were trying to reach registration quotas), which of course compounded the problem.

    I'm actually using that 1/3 stat in an article I'm writing about the economics of polygamy, so I should fact check it... (by which I mean Google it).

  • At 4:39 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    The context in which I want to use it is in terms of the pool of "marriageable" black men, which is another topic where I've read about this a lot.

  • At 4:46 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    The statistic I think you're referring to is national, for one thing, and refers to the number of men in their 20's currently in jail or prison.

  • At 5:00 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ah, yes.

    "One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 years old is under correctional supervision or control.

    Source: Mauer, M. & Huling, T., Young Black Americans and the Criminal Justice System: Five Years Later (Washington DC: The Sentencing Project, 1995)."

  • At 5:09 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Here's an interesting tidbit I hadn't thought of before:

    "Since they are housed in prisons upstate, and so counted in the Census as being residents there, this skews Census data, subtracting population from the city neighborhoods in which the bulk of the prisoners originated and adding it to upstate communities. This could have an impact on the allocation of congressional seats and state funds."

    So not only are huge numbers of young black men disenfranchised, but their numbers shore up congressional representation in predominantly white areas, so that racist Republicans "represent" large numbers of black men in prisons throughout the country. How ironic.

  • At 6:03 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Yeah. That's been a huge structural obstacle to repealing the Rockefeller laws for the last decade at least.


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