NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Surprising Jobs Progress For Young Black Males

May 24, 1999

A new study of low-wage men in 322 metropolitan areas shows that black men ages 16 to 24 with a high school education or less are working in greater numbers, making bigger paychecks and committing fewer crimes than in the early 1990s.

The study was conducted by Harvard University's Richard B. Freeman and the College of William and Mary's William M. Rodgers III.

  • In 14 areas where unemployment has been below 4 percent in every year since 1992, the proportion of young, less- educated black men who are working has jumped from 52 percent to 64 percent.
  • In 15 other areas where unemployment fell by five percentage points or more, the corresponding improvement was from 42 percent to 51 percent.
  • Uniformly, the gains for young black men outstripped the much more modest gains for all young men, including whites, and for black men in their prime working years.
  • In Freeman's view, the improvement shows that the market "is more powerful than any government program."

The change is illustrated by what has happened to a midnight basketball league in Durham, N.C. -- where unemployment recently dipped to 1.5 percent. Previously, some 400 black men between 19 and 25 used to gather to take part in the league. Now, organizers say they are having difficulty attracting enough participants because the youngsters are in the job market.

Source: Sylvia Nasar and Kirsten B. Mitchell, "Booming Job Market Draws Young Black Men Into Fold," New York Times, May 23, 1999.


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