Can Young Black Men Be Saved?

Our Board of Economists examines the lost potential of African American males and develops a prescription to improve their fortunes

and is committed to giving back to his community. The reality of life for large numbers of young black men is bleak. When one calculates the pejorative effects of poor schools, rampant unemployment, racism, parental neglect, and the perpetuation of negative cultural messages, the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. Black males are lagging behind men and women of all ethnicities in this country, and the destabilizing effects on the black community and the rising economic costs to the nation can no longer be ignored. A call to arms is in order.

The BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists met in March to develop solutions to end this downward spiral. Our panel included Andrew F. Brimmer, former member of the Federal Reserve Board and head of a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that bears his name; Margaret C. Simms, interim president for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Bernard E. Anderson, Whitney M. Young Jr. Professor of Management, The Wharton School; Thomas D. Boston, professor of economics at Georgia Institute of Technology; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Charles A. Sheffield, founder and partner of Carthage Capital Group and chairman of the 21st Century Foundation, the leading black philanthropic organization funding grassroots efforts that specifically address the problems of black males; and Kevin Powell, hip-hop historian and Democratic candidate for Congress. The group concluded that individual initiative and public policy is needed to attack this complex problem.

Given the evidence-and the underlying causes-pinpointing effective solutions will be daunting. The statistics have reached near pandemic proportions. Several reports released at the start of 2006 highlighted a litany of corrosive trends: 50% of all black males drop out of high school; 72% of black male high school dropouts were unemployed in 2004; and by the time they reach their mid-30s, 60% of black male high school dropouts had spent some time in jail. “Society pays in numerous ways when the potential of these men is left untapped, including paying exorbitant costs for social safety nets and crime deterrents,” says Timothy D. Goler, co-author of Untapped Potential: African American Males in Northeast Ohio. When black males are unable to find and sustain adequate legal employment, Goler maintains, they don’t pay income taxes and are unable to support their families. This, in turn, deprives communities of much-needed funds, weakens local economies, and contributes to the breakdown of the nuclear family.

The disproportionate incarceration rate of black men has created a cycle of desperation and hopelessness that is crippling the black community. Brimmer, who has studied this issue, says these men become virtually unemployable. Many of today’s jobs require a clean record due to terrorism-related security concerns. This, compounded by the ever-present specter of institutional racism, handicaps their chances of re-entering society as productive citizens. This indignity and demoralization results in feelings of disconnection and financial disenfranchisement, which often leads many to seek illegal sources of income. Thus begins the perpetuation of a vicious cycle. An increase in single-parent, female-headed households reinforces the

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