D.L. Chandler

Black Men Made Little Progress In Racial Equality Since 1970, Study Says


During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and later the rise of the Black Power Movement in 1970, the outlook for young Black men was grim. There was promise things could change, yet it appears many within that demographic still grapple with racial and job inequality and imprisonment similarly as they did back then according to a new study.

The study, titled “The Prison Boom and the Lack of Black Progress after Smith and Welch,” written by University of Chicago researchers Derek Neal and Armin Rick, takes the bold route of suggesting Black men are in the same dire straits regarding unemployment and incarceration as they were in the mid-1960s and early ’70s.

From the abstract:

More than two decades ago, Smith and Welch (1989) used the 1940 through 1980 census files to document important relative black progress. However, recent data indicate that this progress did not continue, at least among men. The growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

A move toward more punitive treatment of arrested offenders drove prison growth in recent decades, and this trend is evident among arrested offenders in every major crime category. Changes in the severity of corrections policies have had a much larger impact on black communities than white communities because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

This study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is still awaiting peer review and is based on preliminary findings. According to FiveThirtyEight, who first reported on the release of the study, many of the papers from the group have reportedly been proven wrong.

Still, this study compares findings from research compiled by economists James Smith and Finis Welch in 1989 that Blacks made huge gains in education, income and job recognition between 1940 and 1980.

Neal and Rick unveil in their study that between 1970 and 2010, employment rates for Black men fell at twice the rate it did for white men. Also in 2010, over a third of Black men aged 25 to 49 were unemployed, which the authors attributed to high rates of incarceration. In fact, the authors said that in 2010, one in 10 of Black men aged 20 to 39 were imprisoned.

Photo: Bob Jagendorf/CC Attribution 2.0

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