In early October, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) released a report entitled “Feel the Heat!” that details the economic status of black men in the United States.  Author Linda Harris discusses this group’s high unemployment rates, which she attributes to high incarceration rates, low graduation rates, and a lack of support systems to help black men out of this low-income trap.

Black men have significantly lower employment rates than other demographic groups, but this wasn't always the case.  In 1969, the employment rates for men between the ages of 20 and 24 were about 77 percent for blacks and 79 percent for whites.  By 2012, the employment rate for young black men dropped to less than 50 percent, while young white men were about 18 percentage points higher at almost 68 percent. 


Source: Feel the Heat!


The report notes that 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 their white peers. 

The CLASP report also discusses the connection between the unemployment rates of black men and the low educational attainment and high incarceration rates of this group.

The educational attainment of black men still trails significantly behind their white male counterparts.  The high school graduation rate for black men, currently at 73 percent, is still 10 percent behind 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 have lasting effects for young black men, especially as barriers to obtaining higher-wage jobs.

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Source: Feel the Heat!

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.  That is an astonishingly high rate that is nowhere near comparable to that of white men.  For men ages 18-19, the imprisonment rate of black men is nine times higher than white men; for ages 20-24, the rate is seven times higher for blacks. 

Incarceration and long-term unemployment can lead to workers becoming unemployable. As a result, high unemployment rates today can also harm future chances of employment.  Black men are more likely to be unemployed for a longer period of time, on average six weeks longer than the national average. 

In addition to lower employment rates, on average black men earn $217 less per week than white men.  According to the report, a large part of this disparity can be accounted for by the disproportionate concentration of black men in low-wage occupations and part-time jobs.  Of all black men in the workforce, nearly half work in the lowest-earning occupational sectors. 

The report attributes these outcomes to low education and high incarceration rates.  According to CLASP, young black men deserve better support systems to help them overcome the barriers to finishing school, staying out of prison, and getting ahead in the job market.  The paper argues that greater assistance in early education would have tremendous effects on the income of black men and the economic growth of the nation as a whole.