African-American poverty rate rose to 25.8 percent in 2009.
That the poverty rate would increase from 2008 to 2009 was
not a surprise. Black workers lost jobs in 2009. When blacks
lose work black poverty increases. Alternatively, when blacks
find work poverty declines. The highest employment rate
for African Americans on record was in 2000 and the lowest
African-American poverty rate on record was in 2000.
we want to lower the black poverty rate we need (1) strong
job creation like we had in the late 1990s, and (2) we need
to make certain that blacks truly have equal employment
opportunity. It is necessary to do more to ensure equal
opportunity because researchers still find that employers
show a strong preference in favor of white job applicants.
When white and black “testers” apply to the same jobs presenting
equivalent qualifications, the white testers receive more
interviews and more job offers.
job creation and anti-discrimination as anti-poverty prescriptions
for African Americans may strike many as basic and commonsensical,
they are rarely mentioned these days in discussions about
reducing black poverty. One hears just about everything
other than calls for more jobs and more equal opportunity.
for example, the soon-to-be-former mayor of Washington
Adrian Fenty. When asked during his recent primary election
campaign what his top priority for addressing poverty in D.C.
answer was education reform. He stated, “I believe that
education is the great equalizer,” and that higher educational
achievement would allow people to “be able to overcome barriers
that perpetuate poverty.”
has a high poverty rate and about 3 out of every 4 poor
residents are African American. But Fenty’s answer did not
demonstrate a good understanding of black joblessness and
improving educational outcomes for blacks is a valuable
and important goal, it is a very weak anti-poverty program.
At every educational level blacks are more likely to be
unemployed and to earn less than whites. Blacks with college
degrees are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as whites
with college degrees. Thus, even if blacks had the same
educational profile as whites, one would still expect blacks
to be plagued with a higher rate of joblessness and consequently
a higher rate of poverty.
misdiagnosis of the problem of black poverty is to see it
as simply due to the high rate of female single-parent households
among blacks. James
T. Patterson argues that female single-parent households
ultimately lead children in these families to joblessness
and poverty. Patterson and others making this argument fail
to mention that we have seen declines in the black poverty
rate as the share of female single-parent households have
increased. There was a large drop in the black poverty rate
from 1990 to 2000 but no reduction in the share of female
single-parent households. Now, that we’ve had two presidents,
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and one Supreme Court Justice,
Sonia Sotomayor, who spent at least part of their childhood
in fatherless households we should begin to be more careful
and critical in our thinking about these families.
with female single-parent households, there are other arguments
that suggest that it is the values and behaviors of blacks
that cause high black poverty rates. A different Patterson,
Patterson, claims that the problems facing young black
men lie in their addiction to “hanging out on the street
after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests,
party drugs, hip-hop music and culture.”
Patterson’s assertions are driven more by popular stereotypes
than serious data analysis. We can find more reliable data
on youth from Daniel Kuehn and Marla McDaniel of the Urban
scholars analyzed data from a nationally-representative
survey of youth. Contrary to Orlando Patterson’s assertions,
they do not find a greater rate of “adolescent risk behaviors”
among blacks; they find less. They
report, “Low-income African American youth engage in
fewer risk behaviors during adolescence (3.1 cumulative
risks) than low-income white youth (3.9 cumulative risks).
Low-income African American youth are less likely to use
alcohol by age 13, sell drugs, steal less than $50, destroy
property, or run away than low-income white youth.”
engaging in fewer risk behaviors than white youth, black
youth have more difficulties in the labor market, and they
will grow up to have a higher rate of poverty. The reason
for their high poverty rate is because they cannot find
work. One reason why they cannot find work is because they
is time for the country to face the facts. Blacks have a
high rate of poverty because of their high rate of joblessness.
Their joblessness stems from the fact that there are not
enough jobs and not enough of a commitment to equal employment
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Dr. Algernon Austin, PhD, is the Director of the
Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at the Economic
Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Additionally,
he is the author of Getting
It Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals Are Failing Black
America and Achieving
Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in
the Twentieth Century, as well as scholarly articles
in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Qualitative Sociology, the Journal
of African American Studies, and Race,
Gender and Class. He blogs at thorainstitute.blogspot.com
Huffington Post. Click here
to contact Dr. Austin.