It has been a tough job market for young people over the past few years. For young black men—especially those with limited education—it has been a brutal job market.
In 2004, fewer than 39 percent of black men between the ages of 16 and 24 had a job. The comparable national numbers for Hispanics and whites were 60 percent and 59 percent. All three groups lost ground between 2000 and 2004. Blacks started from a lower point and fell further.
Georgetown University public policy professor Harry Holzer supplies some answers in a recently published paper called “What Explains the Continuing Decline in Labor Force Activity Among Young Black Men?” His paper makes for depressing reading.
According to Holzer, about 5 percent of all black men are incarcerated. For black men between 16 and 34, the percentage rises to 12 percent. Prisoners don’t need to find jobs. Former prisoners do.
Holzer estimates that 30 percent of young black men have criminal records. You don’t need a doctorate in economics to figure out that criminal records are a huge handicap in the job market. But it gets worse.
Young black men have another issue: intensified competition in the labor market. In a series of reports they have written, Northeastern University economists Andrew Sum and Paul Harrington have documented the success new immigrants have had in landing jobs. Since 2000, 3.7 million new immigrants—those who arrived in the past five years—have found employment. In low-wage jobs, immigrants have displaced young people of all races.