Michael Gerson wrote about a topic today in his Washington Post column that I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years––“the plight of black males”. Gerson argues that “the vast, increasing segregation of young, African American men and boys from the promise of their country” constitutes the “greatest single threat to the unity of America.”
I don’t know where on the scale of threats to unity the plight of black men lies, but it is a major problem which Gerson correctly observes is not top of mind of most political leaders.
Few of us need to be reminded that black men are under-schooled, under-employed and in prison in higher numbers than any other identifiable group.
What are his solutions?
1. Promoting early childhood education and parenting skills––been there, done that.
2. Encouraging youth development and mentoring––ditto.
3. Expanding technical education and apprenticeships––ditto.
4. Fostering college enrollment and completion––ditto.
5. Offering greater opportunities for national service––like Job Corps? Ditto.
6. Extending wage subsidies to low-income, non-custodial fathers––Is that practical?
7. Reforming sentencing and easing prisoner re-entry––even this has been tried with mixed results.
In other words, everything he mentions has already been tried or is impractical. Gerson’s final message? Try harder, spend more money, and really mean it this time.
Sorry, Mr. Gerson. I’m with you on the need to do something, but your solutions are a recipe for continued failure.
To solve a problem one needs to understand the cause and while this problem is as complex as any social problem facing our country, solutions exist that can be identified.
To see the solutions, we need to look more closely at those black men who are succeeding despite the historical and cultural obstacles facing them. If no one were succeeding, the problem would have to be defined differently, but that’s not the case. Although the number of success stories is not high enough, some black men are succeeding. In other words, there are opportunities for those young men who can see them and who are sufficiently motivated to go after them.
I’m not talking about starring in the NFL or NBA. Instead I’m referring to those men who became employable either by going far enough in school or the military service to acquire a skill and work ethic or those who start on the bottom rung on a job and work their way from minimum wage to a living salary.
The problem is that there are too few non-school, non-military opportunities and too many young men are turned off by the prospect of starting as a stocking clerk and working twenty years before becoming an assistant manager.
Those young men see greater opportunity in gangs and drugs than in private sector employment. What it comes down to is the lack of employment opportunities for unskilled workers. Even “expanding technical education and apprenticeships” won’t solve the problem if there are no jobs for the graduates of those programs.
Some people blame the lack of such jobs on companies for shipping jobs overseas. The news on that front, however, is not all bad. Some companies are moving back to the US where they can see their way to success.
Opportunities for unskilled males in those communities where there is high unemployment can grow if government recognizes lack of attractive jobs is the primary problem.
Compounding that lack of jobs problem is the fact that public sector employment, which has been an outlet for minorities for the past 40 years, is drying up and will not grow as fast as it did in the past.
Economic growth is driven by access to capital, labor and markets. Policies that repress access to capital and attempt to control labor and markets, such as high taxes, excessive regulation, and funding the public sector to do work that can better be done by private sector all militate against the growth of economic opportunity.
Another major problem is the monopoly over construction trades by the union movement, which drives up the cost of construction projects and discourages hiring. Union leaders prefer to bribe their members with overtime than hire an extra hand. Right to work laws therefore will help minority youth gain employment opportunities.
Obamacare will exacerbate the problem, as private sector companies will be loath to hire someone unless they are absolutely certain that potential revenue will exceed the cost of that person’s labor including the cost of healthcare. In too many union shops the math doesn’t add up, which again is why right to work laws are critical for minority youth opportunity.
Finally, let’s address the question of racism. In my opinion it belongs at the bottom of the list of factors that contribute to the plight of black men. Employers want to hire people who will help their businesses succeed. Present the right attitude and walk your talk and you’ll succeed.
Bottom line. Foster economic growth and in time the plight of black men will no longer threaten national unity.
Michael Gerson wants leadership in driving that solution to come from the current occupant of the White House. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Obama’s agenda is anti-growth pure and simple.
Progress is being made in some states and localities (like Texas) and that’s where Gerson will have to look if he wants to publicize examples of success in addressing the minority employment problem.
I hope Gerson continues to focus on this problem and that he begins to sort out solutions that have a chance of succeeding from those that are built on a misleading analysis of the cause.