The National Disaster That Is Black Teenage Unemployment.

Mark this as the one time you'll find me agreeing with Doug Schoen:

There is a huge national crisis that America is currently facing that has gotten very little recognition or attention.

That crisis is black teenage unemployment.

Put simply, we are facing something approaching a national emergency that goes well beyond the current unemployment rate in the recession or the more general economic dislocation that Americans have been facing recently. Any objective analysis of the data shows that for the vast majority of African Americans under the age of 21, there are simply no opportunities in our society; not only for advancement, but for any sort of survival. [...]

America needs a bold, national initiative to combat black teenage unemployment. This initiative has to be broad based and include people of all ideologies and all political persuasions.

With the exception of his bit on lowering the minimum wage -- which wouldn't have much of an effect on employment -- this is a very good op-ed. At more than 40 percent unemployment, black teenagers are facing a catastrophically bad job market, and as Schoen points out, this is a disaster for the future workforce; black teens who can't find jobs become black teens without the skills to enter and succeed in the adult job market.

This problem is most acute for black male teenagers. In a 2004 study commissioned by Northwestern University, researchers analyzed employment rates among black male teens (aged 16-19) and black male young adults (aged 20-24) over a 50-year time period. They found that rates of black male teen and young adult employment were “quite cyclically sensitive,” with employment rising at a steady average pace during periods of national job growth and falling at an above-average rate during periods of economic recession. During the 1981-1982 recession, for instance, employment among 16- to 19-year-old black men fell to 24.6 percent down from 28.5 percent in 1978.

Moreover, there are massive gaps between the employment rates of black and white teen men: 26.7 percent in 1981 and 19.5 percent in 2003. And while the employment rate for black men in the 20 to 24 age cohort is higher and more stable (an average of about 57 percent), the employment gap between those black men and their white counterparts is just as large: 19.7 percent in 1981 and 18.8 percent in 2003. And of course, this doesn't even begin to take black incarceration rates into account. Thanks mostly to our "war on drugs," more than 10 percent of African American men aged 18 to 29 are incarcerated in local, state, or federal prison. Upon their release, they won't have anything close to the skills necessary to make it in a modern economy.

Schoen is right to say that this is a "huge national crisis"; unlike him, however, I'm not confident that there is the political will to do anything about it.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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