Plight of young black men worse than you think

The race gap remains wide in employment, income, wealth and health, and the nation's first African-American president hasn't been much help.

By MSNMoney partner Sep 28, 2012 12:26PM

BBW logoBy Peter Coy


The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any wealthy nation, with about 2.3 million people behind bars at any given moment. (That's 730 out of 100,000, vs. just 154 for England and Wales.) There are more people in U.S. prisons than are in the country's active-duty military. That much is well known. What's less known is that people who are incarcerated are excluded from most surveys by U.S. statistical agencies. Since young black men are disproportionately likely to be in jail or prison, the exclusion of penal institutions from the statistics makes their jobs situation look better than it really is.


That's the point of a new book, "Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress," by Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Pettit spoke on Thursday in a telephone press conference.


On the day Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Pettit said, "There was hope that perhaps the U.S. was becoming a post-racial society." But it wasn't true then, and it's not true now. The gap between blacks and whites remains wide in employment, income, wealth, and health. And as Bloomberg's David J. Lynch reported earlier this month: "The nation's first African-American president hasn't done much for African-Americans."


The unemployment rate and the employment-to-population ratio reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are based on a survey of households—people "who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities and homes for the aged) and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces."


The reported figures are bad enough. The employment/population ratio for black males aged 16-24 was 33 percent in August, vs. 52 percent for white males of the same age group. But the black number is skewed upward by the exclusion of jail and prison inmates. The white number is also skewed upward, but less so because a smaller share of young white males are incarcerated.


"We've developed a distorted idea" of how young, black men are faring, Pettit told reporters on the call, which was hosted by the book's publisher, the Russell Sage Foundation. The BLS methodology didn't begin to distort the statistics until the mid-1970s, when the incarceration boom began.


I asked Pettit how this problem can be solved. The first thing she recommended was doing more to help young, black men get an education, since there is a strong link between failure in school and a life of crime and imprisonment.


A further idea is to reduce the penalties for nonviolent drug crimes, recommended another academic on the call, Ernest Drucker, who is a scholar in residence and senior research associate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Imprisoning people for drug offenses can damage their ability to earn a living for the rest of their lives, dooming them to a life of poverty and recidivism, said Drucker, author of A Plague of Prisons.


Inimai Chettiar, the third speaker on the conference call, would go a step further and decriminalize acts like "turnstile jumping"—i.e., getting into the subway system without paying. Chettiar is director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.


The popular "broken windows" theory of policing says that cracking down hard on minor crimes creates an atmosphere of law and order that helps prevent more serious crimes like robbery, rape, and murder. So Chettiar and others are fighting an uphill battle with their decriminalization argument.


There's no question, though, that the plight of young, black men is even worse than the statistics generally show.

More from Businessweek

Sep 28, 2012 7:30PM
Oh, give me a break! The idiots should go to school and try to learn something useful. Then they can get a job or open a business of their own. Why should laws be changed to allow them to commit petty crimes with no punishment? Stop lowering standards for blacks!!! Encourage our young people to improve themselves! If Blacks could educate themselves during slavery and its aftermath, why can't today's Blacks do the same? Take some responsibility for yourselves. If they commit a crime, they deserve to go to jail. I'm not saying the justice system is fair to Blacks and other minorities. I'm saying you know it is not, so why put yourself in that position!!!!! Stop acting like spoiled children! Do something for yourself.
Sep 30, 2012 7:34PM
College degrees and good jobs aren't handed to you. They are earned. Really, so are jail sentences. No one makes you commit a crime. It isn't about race or gender or religion or anything else. You make the decisions that decide your future. Stop making excuses. Black or white, rich or poor, hard work will get you further than excuses. I'm tired of the race card. My wife is Hispanic, She wasn't rich (still isn't). She worked hard and got scholarships to go to college. She got an engineering degree and now has a successful career. Same thing for me except I am white and needed student loans on top of scholarships but still got an engineering degree. We weren't handed anything and we both made it. It is the person not the skin color. PERIOD!
Sep 28, 2012 3:33PM
I find it hard to believe that some people are pretty smart when it comes to playing the system to receive free stuff from the goverment yet play dumb in the system of personal success such as staying out of trouble, going to school and do the right thing.
Sep 30, 2012 9:10AM
It sounds to me that more blacks commit crimes than
 whites and more whites work at jobs than blacks.
The article does not say what the percentages of high
school graduates are for these two races but I am guessing
there is a distinct correlation.
  I dont think reducing the penalties for non-violent crimes is the answer.

I think the Fathers in the black community need to Step Up and 
teach their offspring right from wrong and reach for goals other than crime
Sep 29, 2012 6:35PM
  Here is a novel idea, don't commit crime and you will not end up in jail. 
Sep 28, 2012 8:35PM
Oh, bwaaaah, crybaby liberal Democrat.  Whose fault is it they are in jail?  Is it my fault?  Is it a white person's fault?  Is it my mother's fault?  No.  It's their own fault.  So what if it skews your foolish percentages of unemployed black men.   Your story is utterly ridiculous.   If YOU want to reduce the number of black men in prison then why don't you write a few stories AIMED AT BLACK MEN to read so they can stay out of prison?   Don't preach this CRAP to us.  We already know all this. 
Sep 28, 2012 5:32PM
Black, white, yellow, brown or red, Obama has done damage to all Americans with his misguided and failed economic policies.  Gasoline has doubled, the workforce has shrunk, deficits and unemployment have increased and the dollar has been severely weakened under his watch.  How does that help anyone?
Sep 29, 2012 4:11AM
Peter: The research has already been completed to have some success. For any community in the U.S., black or not, the following is required: 1. believe in education, at least complete a high school degree, 2. believe in family, get or stay married if you have children, 3. believe in work, have a strong work ethic & adapt to work environment rules. As a successful black businessman recently stated to me, the black community are consumers, not entrepreneurs. - Terry     
Sep 29, 2012 6:51PM
Obama has failed the Black community and will continue to do so; but, they'll still vote for him.  Who says the Dems don't have a plantation?
Sep 28, 2012 12:46PM
Honestly, what has Obama done to help any african-american. He turns down invites to speak at NAACP conferences (while Romey attends). When Obama does speak at the NAACP conventions he talks down to the audience. The funny thing is they applaud when he does this.
Sep 28, 2012 10:08PM
The whole country is going down the crapper.
Sep 28, 2012 11:11PM








Oct 1, 2012 11:37AM

OK let's look at this statement right from the article


"I asked Pettit how this problem can be solved. The first thing she recommended was doing more to help young, black men get an education, since there is a strong link between failure in school and a life of crime and imprisonment."


Let make this clear---young blacks have good access to education and better access to a college education than most whites since there is lots of programs for minorities and few if any for average white students.


Young black men have one problem --- thier parents. Welfare tore apart the family social structure in the urban areas and nothing has replaced it other than gangs----that is the problem.


Now, fix that

Sep 29, 2012 8:08PM

What would Obama know firsthand about the American "black situation"? That African portion of his essence never experienced much if any of the "black situation". His ancestry probably waved bon voyage to those enslaved as they left Africa. Obama himself was largely raised abroad and when in America was educated in ivory tower institutions where only the upper crust American youths are educated.


The black community represents only a stepping stone to his next term. Like any stepping stone when the trek continues the stepping stones are easily forgotten.

Sep 28, 2012 10:37PM


Another article about young black men?


Let's talk about trucks.  I like trucks!



Sep 28, 2012 12:58PM

It's not the president's job to help one race over another. He can only create and effect policy the sooner blacks realize this the better. The GOP wouldn't go for any legislation helping minorities anyways. Plus blacks need to stand up for themselves.

Sep 29, 2012 12:37PM

   Cry me a river.The whole country is in the crapper.I dont like the fact that americans are broken up into groups,blacks,mexicans.

Sep 28, 2012 6:22PM
Oblamo is the ENABLER IN CHIEF, if ever there was a politician to spend more time working specifically for the "black cause" than Lincoln did, it is Obuttboy.

He has sold his peoples souls into an addiction that EVERYONE knows the drug dealer will not be able to provide for long, with the eventual cold turkey withdrawals  NOT REALLY HIS PROBLEM AFTER HIS SECOND TERM IS HANDED TO HIM.

Welfare, of every kind is a sinking ship, already fully paid for with ONLY borrowed money, its' limitations are brutally close to an end, leaving those who have been continually rewarded for incompetence as human beings, not even able to feed, clothe, shelter, provide healthcare, schooling, or even security among themselves, will be as dangerous children dropped into the new harsh world, already fully drained of all charitable goods, and deeds! ...............  Bon Appetit,  Mother Fckers!

Sep 30, 2012 4:37PM
Solutions to a lot of our problems:
1.Make import taxes higher especially on American owned companies (like Apple) that have all their products made in other countries. They can do like Nissan and make some products here as well.   2. Deport all illegals (tuff how you got here/your parents should have known better)  3. Give very heavy fines and press legal charges against ALL employers that hire illegals.  4. Hold parents responsible for raising their own kids and stop expecting tax payers and schools to feed, care for and cloth your kids while you don't help. 5. Make JUDGES punish criminals and do away with this early out for "good behavior" bull. 6. Make prisoners learn construction skills as they build more prisons (then there will not be an overcrowding issue). 7. Drop the age to 12 for children that can't obey the law. 8. Stop passing kids on from grade to grade that can't pass the requirements. 9. Stop blaming any President for all that goes wrong. Remember any President can't get it all done without come cooperation from Congress. 
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