August 4th, 2008
12:33 PM ET

We need black men

Randell McShepard
Chairman, Policy Bridge

As America wrestles with remaining competitive in an ever-changing, fast-paced global economy, one fact holds true. All Americans must be actively engaged in making and keeping the nation competitive. The challenging economic times that we currently face require “all hands on deck” to restore our nation’s economic vitality and prowess. Clearly, this “call to action” cannot and should not exclude any demographic group. Unfortunately, there is a demographic group that is slipping further away from opportunities to contribute to the nation’s economy. That group is African-American males, particularly in the 25-54 year old category.

As economists pontificate about the 5% unemployment rate being a clear sign of a looming recession, African-American males in many urban centers in America are unemployed at a minimum of twice that rate or higher. In Cleveland, Ohio, the unemployment rate among African-American men 25-54 years of age was 13% in 2006, according to the American Community Survey. In that same year, unemployment in Dayton for African-American males in the same age bracket was 26%, a rate higher than the national unemployment levels during the Great Depression. High rates of unemployment plague urban core cities in Ohio including Cleveland, Cincinnati and Youngstown, as well as cities in neighboring states such as Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at equally devastating levels.

Compounding the problem of unemployment among African-American men is the limited understanding of the depth of the problem. The unemployment rates aforementioned are only in relation to those who are actively seeking employment. Because many African-American males have stopped actively seeking employment because of frustration, hopelessness, health issues, and other reasons, the levels of actual “joblessness” far exceed the unemployment rates that are commonly reported by economists. By example, although Cleveland had a 13% unemployment rate in 2006, the joblessness level was 31%. Joblessness for African-American males in other Ohio cities reveal similar trends, with 38% joblessness in Cincinnati, 43% joblessness in Dayton and 47% joblessness in Toledo. Many experts also contend that because incarcerated men are not included in standard unemployment tracking, that the true level of joblessness for African-American males in many urban cities across America exceeds 50%.

Although the jobless statistics are daunting for this demographic group, what is most troubling is the limited vision and or the lack of a sense of urgency to address this pressing challenge. The unemployed or otherwise disenfranchised 25 year old African-American male should be actively engaged in the nation’s economy as a tax-paying citizen for the next 40 years. That tax investment is critical for many important government budget line items such as health care, the military and social security. Every successful tax-paying citizen that is gainfully employed lessens the burden on government for social safety net programs.

Without viable opportunities for employment, this nation will have to deal with hundreds of thousands of African-American men between the ages of 25-54 for the next 20 to 40 years who could be either assets or liabilities to our economy. America must be proactive and innovative to create and sustain opportunities that assure that these men can be assets, if true economic competitiveness is what we seek.

To move these men to a place where they can contribute to the economy in positive ways, policymakers, philanthropists and businesses, among others, must realize that the nation’s shift to a knowledge economy is limiting, or all together shutting the door on African- American men. Training and educational resources available for 25-54 year old African-American men pales in comparison to the dollars that are allotted for P-16 programs and institutions, in spite of abysmal high school drop-out rates in urban communities. More jobs are requiring expertise in science, math and technology, which are antithetical to the education and training experiences for large numbers of African-American men. Therefore, America has a series of critical decisions to make. Will it invest in adult training that connects African-American men to high growth industries such as health care, technology and green-building or will it continue to invest in incarceration as a first option? Will it reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act and enhance other programs that offer incentives to employers that offer opportunities to this demographic group or will it ignore this growing crisis and its impact on the economy?

Drastic times call for drastic measures, and that adage especially applies to African-American males in today’s society. This demographic category of men, who in many cases enjoyed middle-class lifestyles in past years due to the competitive salaries that the manufacturing sector provided, are now seeing a manufacturing sector struggling and no longer able to offer those types of opportunities. Ohio alone lost over 200,000 manufacturing jobs since the year 2000. This job loss is critical and representative of the complexity of the crisis for African-American males. According to 2004 Census Data, 26% of all black workers nationwide were engaged in producing or transporting goods and materials (compared to 17% of all white male workers). Clearly jobs shipped overseas have taken a toll on the African-American family as well as the economy.

Jobless numbers are likely to get worse, and when the foreclosure crisis and fuel price surge is taken into account, the way ahead appears bleak for this population. It is only through bold leadership, vision, tenacity and an acute understanding of the scope and breadth of challenges facing African-American males that the situation can improve. Our nation truly needs significant contributions from all of its citizens if it is to reclaim or retain its position as the economic engine for the world economy.

Editor's Note: PolicyBridge is a non-partisan, non-profit think tank focused on urban policy issues of relevance of the minority community.

Filed under: Black in America • Economy • Race in America • Unemployment
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Alea D

    Randy, I really appreciate you putting the issues out there. My father was a steelworker for LTV Steel years ago and made a great living doing so. However, times have changed. I agree with one of the other comments that says having a male role model early on (or even later) is priceless. Since some of our African-American fathers are not on their posts, then someone or some institution must step in. This is where churches, schools, and community organizations can come into play.

    August 6, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  2. Garlin F

    One of the things that stands out most in many of the post is the blame game. The first thing that I have had to realize is the term "racist" and "race first". There is nothing wrong whether you are Asian, Hispanic, or White with being "race first". Once we as an African American people learn this concept then we will be alot further along.We have come along ways and we will keep going. We stop along the way and got a little comfortable, but now that we see what is happening let get on the move again.

    August 5, 2008 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Linda Robinson

    Mike in NYC
    Please! We were born free and don't need to thank anyone except God for our freedom. The issue at hand is equity in jobs, housing and schooling and health care. Unless we create more jobs for all Americans this ship is going to sink.
    Perhaps you need to take a road trip and come to Cleveland. The issues Mr. McShepard raised cannot be blown off as self-inflicted-how easy to dismiss the truth of his statements. If you are not making a living wage or if you are not employed at all, you aren't going to make as many visits to the doctor as I can because I have health coverage through my job. When a door slams in your face when you are hunting for a job, or the door doesn't open at all, that is not self-inflicted frustration.
    The trillion dollars you speak of from the War on Poverty is a moot point. First of all, you are mistaken if you think a trillion dollars (first trillion or last trillion) was spent only on African-Americans. Poverty existed and still exists, throughout the country.
    Mr. McShepard is speaking of what we, who live in the areas, he is writing about see and experience every day. It's reality check time.

    August 5, 2008 at 2:44 pm |
  4. steve s

    Amen, Rosie.

    Too many young people in this country today do not know or choose to ignore the injustices and indignities of slavery and discrimination that blacks as a people suffered in this country over a long, long period of time, and continue to suffer today.

    I believe that personal accountability in the key to the uplift of blacks as a people in America, but I cannot ignore the circumstances that have bred the current situation. People seem to think it is possible to wave a magic wand and the problem will go away, or they otherwise suggest that no one except for blacks themselves are responsible for their social and economic condition, and/or they seem to want to pretend that slavery and discrimination never happen, was not big deal, or that there are not lasting consequences of these offensive and debilitating systems.

    Jim Crow is just another name for apartheid. Blacks in America were beaten, maimed, raped, castrated, lynched, and forced to subordinate themselves as a people for several hundred years in this country.

    The truth be told, it has been less than 40 years in America's long history that blacks here have lived or experienced anything close to fairness and equality, and it has only been in last 10-15 years that America has not at every turn outwardly and with intention resisted real progress in the black community.

    Before, the 1970's, it didn't much matter what education blacks had. In the 50's, 60's and 70's, Blacks remained victims of racism, and were subordinated to employment that was not commensurate with their educational attainment. They were locked-out of educational and employment opportunities, their neighborhoods were red-lined, and they were considered inferior to the majority culture.

    Until recently, In the eyes of our nation, blacks had a "place" in our society, and they were severely punished if they did not know and stay in their place. This is real, not make believe. I don't know any Asian or other ethnic minority group that has had the same experience in America.

    The intent of the Policy Bridge article and report certainly was not to force a discussion of blame and fault in the current situation black males in particular find themselves. It merely highlighted an urgent and dire problem that must be addressed.

    The article's only call is for bold leadership, vision, tenacity and an acute understanding of the scope and breadth of challenges facing African American males that the situation can improve.

    The only question that now matters is what are "we" going to do about it, and placing blame and doing nothing certainly is not the answer.

    August 5, 2008 at 11:11 am |
  5. Rosie

    To Mike of NY City,
    I thought my words would get someone's attention. Thank you for your response, and your history lesson.
    My response is this, I am a victim of a history of which I am not a witness, just as you are a victim of a history which you are not a witness, all we both know is what we have read from the mindset of those before us.
    As for me, I was raised up in what was called the Jim Crow era, but the Jim crow era did not shape my character. I went to an all Black school; rode in the back of the bus; drink from fountains, bearing signs reading colored and white; entered back doors; sit in the back of the theaters; move to the back of the line, so white's could take my place; were not allowed to try on clothes, or shoes, before buying them, and waited at counters until all whites had been waited upon, but my best friend was a white girl, who happened to be our next door neighbor.
    I speak not from a Black or White standpoint, but from a standpoint of truth, both my grandfather and grandmother were slaves, but slavery has not shaped my character. So I have no problem, speaking my heart to you. " I am so sorry for all who have suffered and died for the making of this country. I have wept for those whose blood yet cries out from the earth, " Is this what we suffered and died for, that the receipients of our show of love for this country, can use their time debating on whose right and whose wrong, or who is more qualified or less qualified, or who is worthy, or not worthy, to enjoy the comfort of a country, for which the lives of both Black's and White's made possible.?"
    I have no problem loving all of God's people, for it's the only way I can show God how much I love him. How can I say I love God, whom I have never seen, and hate his people, whom I see everyday?
    So, again, thank you for your response, and for being that person, to whom I can say,"I am so sorry." I will also say "may God bless your health in the years to come."

    August 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm |
  6. Matthew

    It is not just pay or wages, it is the cost of living. In black communities around America we are in areas where there is inflationary spending. There has been no control on the interest rates on homes, tax on spending, and suitable standard living. How can a black man who is greeted happily to low wage jobs make a living? Thanks to the system we are only "selected" or "hand picked" into jobs that complement our skills and working aptitude. So generally this is an economic structure where in employment you have an insufficent market where blacks and browns have to compete to work on a field or some kind of warehouse or kitchen. This is an injustice, even though the American impression is hard work. That is not even a factor when the real solution is giving the high number of qualified blacks a chance, thats it. Then it would in an effect lead to more sufficent education and job creation in the black community. When what is preached is practiced, people follow.

    August 4, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Mike in NYC

    To Rosie:

    I'll make you a deal. You thank white America for over a trillion dollars transferred from whites to blacks, for the 300,000 Northern white soldiers whose sacrifice made abolition possible, and for four decades of continual white guilt-tripping that has convinced millions of young white Americans that they're not worthy of even having a posterity, and I'll promise to try and manage a "thank you." I'll try, that's all I can say.

    As for black inventions:

    (1) Charles Drew did not isolate blood plasma; he supervised programs for the collection and shipment of blood and plasma.

    (2) Garrett Morgan did not invent the first known traffic signal. It appeared in London in 1868, designed by JP Knight. Morgan also did not invent the gas mask, which first appeared in Scotland in 1854.

    (3) Daniel Hale Williams repaired a wound in the heart sac, not the heart itself, nor was he the first to do so.

    Google "black invention myths" for a hefty dose of reality.

    August 4, 2008 at 6:46 pm |
  8. Rosie

    I feel sorry for a country filled with so many cold hearts: Hearts that refuses to see the truth, and ears that refuse to listen to the truth.
    The sadness of it all, is that what we see today is the results of cruel laws and ill-treatments of the African's and their descendents, long before we were born. It will take a tender heart to recognize the hurts and pains suffered by the people of color, and be willing to admit that it all begin with the dehumanization of African race long before our time.
    It also takes a tender heart to admit that this wrong was done, and want to do what ever, God has blessed them to be able to do, that healing might be applied to that wound
    The Doctor is not responsible for our many wounds, but he/she do not refuse to do what they can to make it better. Yes the Dark people are hurting from wounds, of the past, for which a healing balm has yet to be applied. Yes the Dark people, of today, are still feeling the anguish of pain, from the past, because America has, and yet remain in denial of her past.
    But to those of you, who are passing judgment upon the Black men, of today, remember that were it not for Black men, this Country would yet be just a colony. You are reaping, today, from the blood, sweat and tears, of the Black men of old.
    I, as an African- American Negro do not want a handout, for the labor of my ancestors, all I want is to hear just one White person say, to us, who are the descendents of the African slaves,-"We can not show our appreciation to your Ancestor's for leaving us such a beautiful country, but we can extend our appreciation to their descendants. We can say, Thank You from the bottom of our heart."
    I have much sympathy for my white sisters and brothers, because I truly believe that, because they are not acquainted with human suffering, they are not able to relate to it, and have no idea how it feels, nor how it can affect one's mind set.
    But maybe one day those, whose judgment of the Dark people is always negative, will take time out to see what color the person was, who remembered the blueprint for Washington, DC, or discovered Blood Plasma, or invented the traffic lights, or did the first Open heart surgery, or invented the fireman's mask, and a multitude of other inventions and discovieres that is taken for granted, in the country today. We have not always been as you see us today, but this is only known by those of the 1600's – 1800's.

    August 4, 2008 at 5:58 pm |
  9. Nicole

    Again and again someone else is blame for these issues. Let's take a different look at this situation. What ever decisions that are made by our government, schools, corporations effects people with low education...hence affecting minoirities races.

    Sadly the Black community for example have high drop out rates, have high minimum wage jobs, and living in regulated rentals. It all leads back to the main key...education. If you drop out of school, How can an individual succeed in life? Many factors lead to the high drop out rates...parents and the influences our young kids are expose to. The matter of the fact is...drop students leads to no higher education. To become a doctor, lawyer, business broker requires a college education. You dont have the education you dont have the jobs that pays well to live comfortable.

    Every race have they good apples and they bad apples. But people in general who dont want to be a satistic they would fight for the opportunity. The opportunity is there if you want it...there are many aspiring stories from all cultures on how they made it in America ( The American Dream). Ex. Will Smith, Oprah, Montel, Jesse Jackson, Toni Morrison to name a few. Never have I heard them say they were prevented from doing what they had to do. They did it and thats what matters.

    If the Black Communities were motiviated ( starting at home) we would have many educated young blacks helping make this Nation great!! Blacks are obessed because they choose to be. Life is not an easy road for anyone.

    August 4, 2008 at 4:37 pm |
  10. JC- Los Angeles

    Coquinegra, thanks for articulating so eloquently the value of education; your comment "the average Asian immigrant, with the exception of maybe the Hmong, comes here with at least 1 college degree" sums things up quite succinctly.

    If one culture can understand the importance of education and its many benefits that lead to advancement, I'm confident that one day the black community, and all other races, will start to see the light.

    August 4, 2008 at 4:09 pm |
  11. Roderick E

    Food for thought! Why should any black male invest thousands of dollars of debt for a higher education when companies will not hire you? Student loans mess up your credit? Credit reports deny you employment? Even with degree you make what a white male with his high school diploma makes? The game goes on and on! It isn't policy or law that needs reform it's a racist group of power brokers! Black men are needed for only a few things in this country. A few are needed to give melanin to the whites with low salt issues to keep their race alive. Others are needed to keep the other blacks in check!
    The last group are needed to work in prison industries .You entrap yourself with the attempt to pay a mortgage and a student loan back with all of the statistical data given. I guess I am the only black man in This country who understands this huh!

    August 4, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  12. t

    Companies typically do not fear their job applicants, from what I've seen. And if your potential employer is "ignorant" about your potential, it's your job to inform them of it! Write a better resume, go get some additional credentials.

    I walked away from this article thanking my lucky stars for the parents I had, not because they gave me everything, but because they held me accountable for my behavior and choices. No one set up special programs for me. I did the research to get money to pay for school. I studied. I didn't go out and party. I didn't buy shiny things. I bought books, wore cheap clothes, and eat meagre meals. And when I decided to go back to school, mid-career, I did the same things over again. Oh, I paid for that myself. I didn't ask the government to provide a reeducation program.

    Here's the kicker: isn't racism all about not seeing people as individuals? If we do see people as individuals, shouldn't we see each one's behavior as being a matter of personal choice and effort? If you want to be seen as individuals, stop asking for government-paid group benefits.

    August 4, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  13. Mike in NYC

    McShepard wrote:

    "...frustration, hopelessness, health issues, and other reasons."

    The first three are self-inflicted. So are those other reasons.

    This song got old years ago.

    He also wrote:

    "Drastic times call for drastic measures."

    I guess the first trillion dollars spent in the War on Poverty wasn’t drastic enough.

    August 4, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Coquinegra

    Excuse me, JC, but your average Asian immigrant, with the exception of maybe the Hmong, comes here with at least 1 college degree. So we brain drain Asian countries and then ask them to serve as the model minority for the rest of the people of color? Let's compare apples with apples. Asian immigrants can succeed in one generation because they were successful before they got here!

    August 4, 2008 at 1:49 pm |
  15. Rahni, Connecticut

    African-American men are slipping away in our high tide of unemployment. Here are some few causes, companies are afraid to hire African-American males due to fear and other ignorance reasons. Other causes are dropping out of school before completion and no one to look up to for guidance. Hopefully, in the near future, we can catch the young African-American males while in grade schools to teach them the way out is higher education not crimes or becoming a victim of their environment.

    August 4, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  16. JC- Los Angeles

    Bringing attention to the bleak situation facing black men is warranted, however, the solution to the problem must come from within.

    The mainstream media asked if the American people were ready for a black President; after hearing Rev. Wright, Rev. Pfleger and Rev. Jackson, the question should be is the black community ready to accept a black candidate and finally integrate with the rest of society.

    How is it that an asian immigrant can land on our shores and within one generation, marry, start a family, own a business and send his children to our nation's finest schools?

    Although there are similar success stories from all races, until the black community embraces the opportunities afforded all Americans today and demands a culture of accountability, success, education and self respect, we will continue to face this chronic dilemma.

    Although we can not change the past and the mistreatment of good people, by letting the past stand in the way of advancement, we are compounding the problem.

    I have never once heard a Jewish friend tell me that the Holocaust has held him or her back from achieving one's potential.

    August 4, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  17. Jim

    Having a father that guides a child through early life experiences is irreplaceable. Having a father that stresses the importance if a good education is a key for a young person attaining one. Black fathers need to step to the plate and help their children succeed in America or any other place in this world. In America is it is pretty simple: Educate yourself or face severe employment challenges.

    August 4, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Cindy

    Black men may have it bad but to say that the nation as a whole has to change for them is absurd. There are a lot of people in every race that don't graduate or can't read and yet hold jobs and help the economy. It's everyones on responsibility to go to school, graduate and make something of yourself. If you chose not to do that then that is on you and can't be blamed on anyone else. So stop it!

    What about the Mexicans or any other immigrant that comes here and can't read or write English, are we supposed to change everything for them too just because they chose not to learn English? PLEASE!


    August 4, 2008 at 12:42 pm |