The African American population is the only one in the U.S. where more women are employed than men, representing nearly 54 percent of Black workers in 2011. While this may not seem like a bad thing when it comes to the important role of women in the workplace, the stat is more a statement on the dismal performance of Black men in the workforce than it is a reflection of the women’s success. Black men carry the highest unemployment rates, year after year, and represent a large percentage of Americans in poverty. If we know this, then why isn’t more being done to correct it?
In the first two posts of this series, I looked at the troubles that stem from illiteracy among the young Black men in our K-12 schools, and the way they are punished more severely than their peers, statistically speaking. Today I want to look at what all of the foundational childhood circumstances mean on a larger scale, and how it impacts the workforce for Black men.
Less Education Equals Smaller Paychecks
Statistic after statistic shows us that of all demographics, Black men have the least amount of education as a group. Only 54 percent of African Americans graduate from high school in the U.S., compared to over three-quarters of White and Asian students. The 12th grade reading scores of African American males are generally on the same level as White students in 8th grade. When it comes to college, by the mid-20s, only 14 percent of Black Americans had graduated from college, compared with 30 percent of White students. People without a high school diploma earn roughly $10,000 less per year than those with a diploma, and people without a college degree earn over $16,000 less than those who have one. For Black men who never earn a college degree, or even cross the stage for a high school diploma, the job earning potential over a lifetime is bleak.
Hardest Hit in Recessions
During the latest recession years, Black workers - particularly the men - were hurt the most by the economic downturn. During January 2007, when the recession first began, unemployment rates for Black workers was at 7.9 percent, compared to just 5.8 for Hispanics and 4.2 for Whites. The Department of Labor reports that the reason for this is multi-faceted. For one thing, Black men are statistically less educated than their women and white counterparts. Though no job was truly safe during the recession, those with lower levels of education certainly experienced the biggest brunt of the financial hard times. Another reason Black men faced higher levels of unemployment during the recession is because they make up the largest percentage of government employees in the public sector. In 2011, almost 20 percent of employed Blacks in the U.S. worked in the public sector, compared to only 14.2 percent of Whites and 10.4 percent of Hispanics. When the government is forced to cut back on its budgets, workers are laid off or fired.
Less Likely to Find Work
Statistics also show that when Black men do lose their jobs, they stay unemployed an average of seven weeks longer than white workers and eight weeks longer than Hispanic workers. Almost half of all unemployed Black workers in 2011 were out of work from 27 weeks or longer. The longer a person is out of work, the harder it is for him to regain employment for a variety of reasons. The gap in resume time is certainly part of it, but there is also a mental effect that weighs heavily on the unemployed, with enthusiasm waning with each week that passes without work.
What Can be Done?
The solution to improving the outlook for Black workers starts in K-12 classrooms. By keeping these young men in school and encouraging them to further their educational pursuits, the building blocks of a brighter economic future are put in place. While there is certainly nothing wrong with working in the public sector, Black men should also be encouraged to seek out employment in a variety of private fields too. Not only should these fields be encouraged, but there should be targeting programs in place that point these young men in the right direction through special classes, group and mentorship initiatives. Whatever the solution, it needs to start inside K-12 classrooms if it stands a chance of turning the tide for the Black boys who become the men of society after their school days.
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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.