Eight Charts That Prove Obama’s Right About Young Black Men’s Chances In The Economy

CREDIT: Shutterstock

How can we un-teach racism if our teachers still discriminate against students of color?

On Thursday, President Obama will outline his new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which will ask nonprofits and businesses to search for ways to improve the economic chances of the country’s young black men. “The centerpiece of the effort will be a presidential task force led by Broderick Johnson, the secretary of Mr. Obama’s cabinet, that will recommend programs that should be expanded or created to help young black men meet their potential,” the New York Times reports. More than a dozen nonprofits will join the president, and the foundations will pledge $200 million over the next five years to the search for solutions to issues in early childhood development, educational disparities, school discipline, parenting, and the criminal justice system.

That sum of money may not be nearly enough to move the needle on these issues. But it’s a start at addressing a very real crisis for young black men in this country. Here are some facts that expose the odds stacked against them:

1. Few black children get early childhood education.

Black children make up a small percentage of the children who are in preschool programs. Nearly half of all children in these programs are white, compared to less than a quarter who are black. In fact, more than half of all black children don’t attend preschool.

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CREDIT: Ray Collins & Rose Ribeiro, National Child Care Information Center

But high-quality preschool programs can have big benefits for young children of color. Black children in a Tulsa program made a 21 percent gain in problem-solving skills, compared to just a 6 percent gain for white children. In a Boston program, they made stronger gains than white peers in a handful of developmental assessments.

2. Black students experience an educational achievement gap that grows.

Thanks to a lack of high-quality preschool and other factors, an achievement gap between black children and white children can be seen as early as nine months old. But it just keeps growing over time:


CREDIT: The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution

The growth in the gap leaves black students at a big disadvantage when it comes time to consider college. Just 5 percent of African-American students meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmark in all four subject areas: English, reading, math, and science. They also score lower on the ACT than all other racial groups:

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CREDIT: ACT Research and Policy

3. A huge number of black teenagers are unemployed.

Black teenagers had a high unemployment rate even before the recession, but they have hit staggering highs in the aftermath, climbing to nearly 50 percent in 2009, meaning that about half of all black teens were out of work. While it has declined since then, it’s still at 38 percent, compared to a 7 percent rate for the entire population.

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4. The entire black population struggles to find work.

The overall black unemployment rate has been double that of whites for the past five months. But it goes back even further than that. The worst unemployment rate the country’s population experienced at the depths of the recession was still under 10 percent. Yet black workers have experienced an unemployment rate above that level for most of the past half-century:

black unemployment chart

CREDIT: Economic Policy Institute

And that’s not even the whole story. About one in five black and Hispanic workers is underemployed, which includes those without a job looking for work, those who have given up looking, and those working part time who want to be full time. The black underemployment rate has consistently been far higher than the white one since at least 2000:


5. Even those who are employed make less.

Black men are much more likely to be in jobs that pay less. Average yearly wages in jobs where they are overrepresented are more than $13,000 less than jobs where they are underrepresented:


CREDIT: Economic Policy Institute

In fact, for every $10,000 bump in a job’s average annual wage, the proportion of black men employed in that job will drop by seven percentage points.

This is a contributing factor to the stark racial wealth gap. The recession decimated wealth in the black community, in large part thanks to the collapse of the housing market. The gap in wealth between whites and blacks nearly doubled, and by the end of the recession, white families were six times as wealthy as black families. But as with unemployment, this was part of a long-term trend. Gaps in income and wealth between blacks and whites have been on the rise for 40 years:

Pew Race Chart