Study: Black Men Have Made Little Progress in Society Over Last 50 Years

The popular narrative is that economic and social progress for African-Americans has proceeded steadily upward over the past century, like a smooth incline, culminating six years ago with the election of the first Black president.

But that’s not quite the case for Black men, according to a new research paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper by University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick reveals that Black men are in the same position relative to white men that they were in around the time of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While the Black community as a whole was showing steady improvement between the years 1940 to 1980, based on census data, that improvement halted in recent decades for Black men. The researchers attribute this development to the explosion in incarceration rates among Black men over the last 30 years and the sharp drop in Black employment during the Great Recession of the previous decade.

The paper is based on preliminary findings and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

According to the study, 10 percent of black men in their 30s will be incarcerated at some point during a calendar year, compared to 2 percent for white males of the same age group.

“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,” the study says. “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.”

In addition, more than a third of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 49 lacked employment in 2010.

“The Great Recession period of 2008–2010 was quite bleak for black men,” the study says. “Recent levels of labor market inequality between black and white prime-age men are likely not materially different than those observed in 1970.”


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