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1,500,000 Missing Black Men Wreak Havoc on Families… and Public Schools

April 21, 2015

An astonishing article in the NYTimes reports that 1,500,000 black men are “missing”… and reason for their absence is prison. A demographic analysis prepared by Justin Wolfers, David Leonardt, and Kevin Quealy is full of charts and graphics and offers this sobering statistic:

Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.

The article also includes this paragraph, which describes how this statistic plays out in the creation of stable families:

The disappearance of these men has far-reaching implications. Their absence disrupts family formation, leading both to lower marriage rates and higher rates of childbirth outside marriage, as research by Kerwin Charles, an economist at the University of Chicago, with Ming-Ching Luoh, has shown.

The black women left behind find that potential partners of the same race are scarce, while men, who face an abundant supply of potential mates, don’t need to compete as hard to find one. As a result, Mr. Charles said, “men seem less likely to commit to romantic relationships, or to work hard to maintain them.”

The imbalance has also forced women to rely on themselves — often alone — to support a household. In those states hit hardest by the high incarceration rates, African-American women have become more likely to work and more likely to pursue their education further than they are elsewhere.

This imbalance plays out in schools where single parent families cannot earn as much as dual wage earners and/or commit time and energy to engaging in the life of their children in and out of school. The solution to this is complicated, but it is clear that our policies of incarceration are affecting African American males far more than any demographic group. Something has to change.

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