Invisible Men: Many young black males are in crisis

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For millions of young black men in America's inner cities, the bough just keeps on breaking.

If not properly educated or prepared for jobs, they are likely to face higher unemployment rates, time in jail and a darkening sense that life for them can only get worse.

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Even as a steady economy and welfare reform have lifted many black women and other disadvantaged groups out of the trenches of poverty, there's no such promise for young black men, either nationally and locally.

In April, the National Urban League issued a dismal report on "The State of Black America: Portrait of the Black Male." The report cited data on incarceration, joblessness and educational attainment among young black males and called the issues they face the nation's most serious social crisis.

According to the report:

African-American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males, and black males who work in comparable jobs earn only 75 percent of what white men earn.

Half of black men in their 20s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

Black men are nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, with average jail sentences about 10 months longer than those of white men.

In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20s who did not go to college were in jail; a decade later, it's grown to 21 percent.

Black males between 15 and 34 are nearly eight times as likely to suffer from AIDS as their white counterparts.

Black males ages 15-19 die from homicide at 46 times the rate of white males their age.

Black male achievement begins to decline as early as the fourth grade and by high school Studies show, black male achievement begins to decline as early as the fourth grade and by high school, black males are more likely to drop out; in 2001, only 42.8 percent graduated from high school, compared to 70.8 percent for their white counterparts.

A similar picture emerged from three other national reports, from Harvard, Columbia and Princeton universities, last year. The researchers found that poorly educated, young black men moved in life patterns almost directly opposite to much of the rest of society. As urban crime rates were declining, incarceration rates for young black men were climbing. As the economy was improving, poorly educated young black males were falling behind in finding work.

The statistical story in the Pittsburgh area is even bleaker, according to University of Pittsburgh studies. Seventy percent of black children live with no father. Up to 50 percent of the black males in Pittsburgh Public schools do not graduate.

Because young black males can't be divorced from their communities, the harsh socioeconomic realities that many blacks in Pittsburgh face figure in the story of young men.

University of Pittsburgh studies show that black Americans in this city are worse off than in 70 comparable cities across the nation: up to 46 percent of black children here live in poverty, and 70 percent live with no father.

In Pittsburgh, 70 percent of black families earn less than $25,000 a year. Unemployment for black Pittsburghers -- 9.4 percent -- is nearly triple the rate for white adults, according to studies from Pitt's Center for Social and Urban Research.

Like their white and Hispanic counterparts, young black males are not born as criminals, prisoners or dropouts.

Once they leave the cradle, though, something happens to push a large percentage of black men toward such negative consequences, sociologists say. The factors most cited as causes are fatherlessness, a pervasive negative entertainment culture, racism and multi-generational poverty that leaves families without the tools to make structural change.

For black men to lag behind their white counterparts in so many major categories is devastating, said Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League. The ramifications move beyond just the young men themselves and impact families and communities. "It's a problem with a major rippling effect," Morial said.

Laments over the condition of African-American men and calls for action are not new. The new studies and reports underline what has been true for decades: The situation for many is dire.

A group of Post-Gazette reporters conceived of the Invisible Men series as a way to let the subjects of so many studies and articles and hand-wringing speak for themselves.

Beginning today, the Post-Gazette will offer an occasional series of stories on the hardships and successes of young black men who are most at risk and reveal how they live in society. We will capture the voices of young black men in stories about their circumstances, their views of themselves as individuals and as members of a much-discussed group, their fears, and their aspirations.

We need your help. Please call at 412-263-1410 or email us at with your stories of young black men who struggle with being a school dropout, unemployed or disconnected from family. Let us also know about the young black male who has succeeded against the odds to enter college, start a business, maintain a positive presence as a young father or who was mentored by an individual or program you'd like to brag about.

Perhaps, your thoughts and stories can become part of what we'll cover.

Ervin Dyer can be reached at or 412-263-1410.


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