Blacks Prison and Unemployment

black childAfrican-Americans in Prison

“The conditions now, in my view, are unquestionably worse in the inner cities,” attorney and civil rights stalwart David Ginsburg told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Education is worse. Housing is worse. Unemployment is worse. We now have a drug problem that we didn’t have in 1967 and 1968. There are millions of handguns. The cities have been essentially disregarded by the federal government.”

Ginsburg knew what he was talking about. He served as executive director of President Lyndon Johnson’s National Commission on Civil Disorders, formed after explosive race riots swept the nation in 1967. He believed white America was responsible for that unrest by penning African-Americans into ghettos. “White institutions created it (the ghetto), white institutions maintain it and white society condones it,” he said, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Ginsburg, who died May 23rd at his home in Alexandria, Virginia., at age 98, made the statement quoted above in 1992 comparing the situation then with the Sixties, but he might just as well have spoken today comparing our grim realities with the bleak Nineties. That’s because a poverty-struck African-American underclass continues to be a source of profits for the unscrupulous.

Slumlords charge exorbitant rents. “Convenience” stores charge higher prices. Military recruiters have their pick of jobless African-American youth desperate for work. And the for-profit, private prisons increase their head count (and income) as the judicial system hands off the young African-American drug peddlers caught in the legal web. As the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, African-Americans fill 40 percent of the nation’s prison cells. Yet they make up just 13 percent of the nation’s population.

It’s a fact, the Associated Press reported, that “More than three times as many black people live in prison cells as in college dorms,” according to a Census Bureau finding in 2006. “It’s one of the great social and economic tragedies of our time,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the Urban League, commented. “It points to the signature failure in our education system and how we’ve been raising our children.”

Indeed, a report released this May by the U.S. Department of Education finds the U.S. has 16,122 “high poverty” schools, and that students in them “are more likely to be minorities,” an AP story said. What’s more, the number of such schools is up from 12 percent of the total in the 1999-2000 school year to 17 percent of the total in 2007-2008 school year. In President Bush’s “no child left behind” era, it seems entire schools got left behind.

As for housing, Habitat For Humanity reports that “95 million (Americans) experience housing problems, including cost burden, overcrowding, poor housing quality and homelessness.” That’s nearly one-third of a nation. Here, African-Americans again, are getting the worst of it. Writing about Philadelphia in the Huffington Post on Feb. 11th of this year, journalist James Sanders says wretched conditions persist: “Predominantly black parts of town — North Philly, and the so-called ‘Badlands,’ for instance — are all too synonymous with crime and poverty. Too many black students drop out of high school, and give in to lives on the streets or in gangs.”

The situation is similar in San Francisco where substandard public housing, high crime rates, and “dissatisfaction with underperforming urban schools” have combined to ignite a black exodus from the city, according to the August 28, 2007 USA Today. In Springfield, Missouri, writes Cheryl Fischer of the Kuumba Human Rights Focus Group, the city’s own records show that 35 percent of African-Americans live in substandard housing and 5 percent live in dilapidated housing. As well, 70 percent of African-Americans in that city earn $20,000 or less annually, and only 12% of African-Americans earn from $30,000 to $60,000 annually.

The Urban League’s report put unemployment among blacks nationally at nearly 15 percent in 2009, compared with 8.5 percent for whites and 12.1 percent for Hispanics. It also showed a median income for whites of $55,530 compared to $34,218 for blacks. The UL called for a job-creation and job training investment of $168 billion over the next two years. FYI, back in 1962, Whitney Young, then UL’s executive director, called for a “Marshall Plan” to help black Americans that was largely ignored by President Johnson. LBJ was intent on “winning” the war in Viet Nam. The U.S. preferred making wars overseas to helping African-Americans at home in those days and Presidents Bush and Obama have followed in his footsteps.

As the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported this April, a family needs to earn $38,360 a year to afford to rent a decent two-bedroom home but that “rents continue to rise while wages continue to fall” in the current recession. Its “Out of Reach 2010” report shows once again that “prevailing incomes and wages are simply not enough to allow a family to afford a decent home in their community,” said Sheila Crowley, NLIHC president. The national two-bedroom Fair Market Rent is a staggering $959 a month. In addition, 74% of metro renters live in an area where having two full-time jobs at the minimum wage would still not allow them to afford that price. “The persistence of high rates of unemployment and under-employment is making it ever more difficult for families to secure decent housing. Unfortunately, the situation is not likely to improve any time soon,” Center for Economic Policy and Research Co-Director Dean Baker commented. Of course, the U.S. could have built 7,779,092 affordable housing units with the $1 trillion it has now flushed down the sewers of Iraq and Afghanistan, says the National Priorities Project of Northampton, Massachusetts. But the brilliant brains running Washington instead have got 5,000 coffins shipped home for the same money, not to mention 1-million funerals in Iraq alone. Of course, the profits of oil companies and defense contractors have been stupendous.

Nothing in the above is meant to detract from the remarkable gains by African-Americans who have pushed themselves into the middle-class, despite the formidable odds against them. An examination of U.S. Census data will indicate this has been going on at least since the 1940s. But overall, for Black America, it is as David Ginsburg remarked: “Education is worse. Housing is worse. Unemployment is worse.” It’s the same today as in the Nineties or Sixties. So where’s the civil rights movement?

Sherwood Ross


  1. says

    Traditionally people would prioritize their needs through a political party. Poor people would be able to argue their concerns at a convention and through the electoral and legislative process. That does not happen in a candidate centered no party system. We have an Orwellian reality where politicians have a a R or D next to their name when they appear in TV, where the poor and working people in no way are connected to this R and D unless they are part of an organized interest group.

  2. in_awe says

    This is a good summary of the sad situation blacks in particular find themselves in today after 40 years of failed federal programs intended to offer them a hand-up out of poverty and into the mainstream. Unfortunately, good intentions were dogged by poor planning and implementation and perverse effects.

    I agree that the biggest shame this country has with respect to minorities is the abysmal education delivery in their communities. This has been true forever

    Here are the increases in federal spending on Education since the mid-1970’s(then the Dept. of HEW – the education spending, followed by the Dept of Education) per the US Budget:
    Nixon 19.1%
    Carter 35.5%
    Reagan-1 (18.6%)
    Reagan-2 13.0%
    Bush 22.2%
    Clinton-2 11.0%
    Bush-1 67.9%
    Bush-2 increase but I can’t find that number quickly, but it was sizeable

    Where did all that money go? You imply the Bush years are somehow linked to education decline, yet Bush increased federal education spending more than any other president.

    We do know that teacher unions are now among the wealthiest and most influential unions in the country at the state and national levels. In CA the teacher’s union spent $210MM in the past decade on lobbying and campaign spending. Can one stipulate that much of that was spent to support higher wages for teachers? If so, did that translate into better educational outcomes? Clearly not – especially in the minority communities.

    As long as teacher unions retain their political muscle, the ability to re-populate the teaching ranks with teachers that yield better results is essentially nil.

    No doubt that the programs initiated by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to build government run, low income housing ghettos in urban areas was a disaster waiting to happen. Other programs paid landlords to provide subsidized housing but the oversight failed to hold them accountable for maintenance of the properties. What we see is massive amounts of money going into failed federal housing programs decade after decade after decade.

    The push since the mid-90’s for social justice in terms of housing led to the mortgage crisis we face today as a nation, but more importantly those minority families that were lured into buying a home beyond their financial capacity to own. Their credit is being ruined and they bear emotional scars from the process that built up their hopes only to dash and trash them just months or years later.

    The idea that rent control is the answer has proven false in virtual every market it has been tried. It reduces rental housing stock, or results in more dilapidated buildings as landlords act out the rational economic reaction to the government stimulus.

    Where do we begin when we discuss the failures of the social engineering programs started by Johnson’s Great Society? Welfare programs contributed to the dissolution of nuclear families in the ghettos of America. Perverse incentives “nudged” (to use a currently vogue term) recipients to behaviors that decreased their employability: Drop out of school, have children out of wedlock, lack any employment history, do not have a spouse, etc.

    Obviously the education system failure to prepare students for gainful employment is a crucial factor. Somewhere along the line a bias emerged for college tracking students – those who failed to meet the academic standards were abandoned. When I was in school even suburban middle and high schools had shop classes, drafting classes, electrical classes, auto repair, HVAC training, etc. Now those classes are few and far between – why not bring them back and give non-college bound kids a chance to learn a usable skill?

    In the past two decades and new factor has been documented as a major factor in the absence of adequate job opportunities for blacks – illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants compete for the same low skill jobs that historically were held by blacks leaving higher unemployment in the black communities, and lower income in the immigrant ones due to lowered pay scales. It is not being racist or “anti-immigrant” to acknowledge these realities. A secure border and controlled immigration – especially those immigrants that share the education and skills deficits seen in so many residents of the black community – will open back up entry level jobs for many suffering blacks.

    Like night follows day, if you have no education or vocational training, and your peers exert pressure to conform to their interests and activities which unfortunately often include criminal acts, you may find yourself arrested and serving time.

    It is past time to have a dispassionate national discussion about the failures of the past and current federal programs and envision a different path to a better future for black Americans. As long as government persists in thinking that throwing more and more money at programs that don’t address – and may exacerbate – the problems we are doomed to more of the same.

    There is more than enough blame to go around: whites and blacks, politicians and citizens, conservative and liberal, churches and black “leaders”, etc. Finger pointing will lead nowhere. It is time for everyone to hang their head in shame and resolve to become part of the solution and eschew more passionate but empty rhetoric and accusations.

  3. says

    Traditionally people would prioritize their needs through a political party. Poor people would be able to argue their concerns at a convention and through the electoral and legislative process. That does not happen in a candidate centered no party system. We have an Orwellian reality where politicians have a a R or D next to their name when they appear in TV, where the poor and working people in no way are connected to this R and D unless they are part of an organized interest group.


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