As the U.S. grapples with its long history of racial exploitation and exclusion and the unacceptably large racial disparities in virtually all meaningful walks of life, a spotlight is once again beginning to focus on the plight of Black men in the U.S.

Such concern is not unprecedented. About 15 years ago, there was a brief flurry of attention paid to the high incarceration and low employment rates of Black men, and their consequences for Black families and communities.1 Indeed, some positive policy efforts ensued – particularly in the area of incarceration, where a broad consensus developed on the harmful effects of mass incarceration and the need for policy to lower it, and to help justice-involved individuals reenter society.[2] Yet little positive effort was made at that time, or at any time since, to improve employment outcomes among Black men and youth; and these outcomes remain disturbingly weak.

Below I provide the latest evidence on employment rates of Black men, and review what we know about its causes. I then consider a range of policy efforts that could improve them.

For decades, a research literature by social scientist has documented earnings and employment gaps between Black and white Americans, and between Black men and other men more specifically, and analyzed their causes.

In my view, the major causes of lower employment and earnings among Black men than other groups can be summarized as follows:

  • Proximate causes: Lower education, skills and work experience
  • Ultimate causes: Discrimination and social/spatial isolation
  • Mediating factors: Lower marriage/child custody rates and worse health
  • Reinforcing long-run factors: Crime/incarceration and child support

Read the full article about employment rates of Black men by Harry J. Holzer at Brookings.