For years, there has been talk of new groups of people supplanting Black people as the face of civil rights and social justice. I am not here to argue whether others are doing better or worse in either category. I am going to give you some statistics on Black America. Over a half century since the start of the Civil Rights Movement, a Black president, and monetarily successful athletes and musicians have many people believing that Black people are doing well. While there has been improvement in some areas, there is much work yet to be done.
The following statistics show the current state of Black America, as well as comparisons to earlier years which show progression, regression, or stagnation in the stated area. The years of comparison chosen were the earliest I was able to find on Black people.
Sources – U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Census Bureau
According to the Department of Justice, African Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than Whites and three times more likely than Hispanics.
At the end of 2008, there were an estimated 1.36 million prisoners under state jurisdiction. Black people accounted for 38% percent of this number. It looks worse when you consider that black people are only 13% of the U.S. population.
These numbers continue to expand if you study individuals under any correctional supervision including, federal prisons, local jails, probation, parole, etc.
Sources – Journal of Blacks in Higher Education and U.S. Department of Education
In 1972, 18.2 percent of the Black students that graduated from high school enrolled in college. The national average for 1972 was 37.8 percent.
In 2008, after almost 40 years, the percentage of Blacks attending college increased to a whopping 19.7 percent. Insert sarcasm here. The national average for 2008 was 42.8 percent.
Currently, the Black high school student graduation rate is at a pathetic 42 percent. The rate for White students is 62 percent.
Sources – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
In 1972, the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Blacks was 10.4 percent.
In 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Blacks was 16.0 percent.
In 2010, the average weekly earnings for all employed people ages 16 and older was $752. The average weekly earnings for all employed Black people ages 16 and older was $614.
Sources – U.S. Census Bureau
In 1972, the United States population was 209,362,000. There were 23,373,000 people living below the poverty line. This was approximately 11 percent of the population.
In 1972, the Black Population in the United States was 23,699,000. There were 7,182,000 Black people living below the poverty line. This was approximately 30.3 percent of the Black population. Black people accounted for 30.7 percent of the people in poverty.
In 2009, the United States population was 303,820,000. There were 43,569,000 people living below the poverty line. This is approximately 14.3 percent of the population.
In 2009, the Black Population in the United States was 38,556,000. There were 9,944,000 Black people living below the poverty line. This was approximately 25.8 percent of the Black population. Black people accounted for 22.8 percent of the people in poverty.
Hate Groups in America
Sources – Southern Poverty Law Center – February 23, 2011
The SPLC documented 1,002 hate groups operating in 2010 – a 7.5 percent increase from the 932 groups active a year earlier and a 66 percent rise since 2000. It is the first time the number of hate groups has topped 1,000 since the SPLC began counting them in the 1980s.
But the most dramatic growth in the radical right came in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. These conspiracy-minded organizations, which see the federal government as their primary enemy, grew by 61 percent over the previous year. Their numbers increased to 824 groups in 2010, from 512 groups a year earlier.
Are Black people to blame for their current state of affairs? Why do Black people consistently fall behind the rest of the country in most categories? What can be done to close the gaps amongst Black people?
These are questions that I wondered as I researched these statistics. The answers to these questions are not simple. Complex situations often require complex answers. However, I will just pose some opening thoughts in hopes that they can serve as stepping stones to real solutions.
If you don’t want to be an inmate don’t act or dress like one.
Pull your pants up, tie your shoes, and tuck in your shirt. Police officers are trained to find individuals that fit the description. Trust me when I tell you that not many brothers are committing crimes in suits.
We need to crack down on racial profiling and crooked cops.
A study by the ACLU of Northern California indicates more than 200 people have been wrongfully convicted of murder, rape, or other serious offenses since 1989. A 2004 study of over 30 cases of wrongful conviction in California indicates that African Americans have been wrongfully convicted at a much higher rate than people of other races.
High school graduates, on average, earn more than drop-outs. College graduates, on average, earn more than high school graduates.
“If you want to hide something from a Black man put it in a book.”
“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”
For centuries, the value of education has been shared by some of the greatest minds. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance. Knowledge leads to skills; skills lead to action; and action leads to change.
If you want to be better, you have to do better. But you cannot do better, if you do not know better. It all starts with education.
“The government does not change communities, people change communities.”
Be better not equal
Despite having the same qualifications, many Black people are overlooked for positions. Experience has shown me that Black people have to be much better than their White counterparts. You can argue whether this is true or not; but I have witnessed this first hand as a recruiter and hiring officer.
Employers, what do you do to make sure that you have a diverse pool of candidates? Do you utilize the diversity on your staff to recruit? If you have diverse staff members, are you utilizing their knowledge and skill in your recruitment efforts?
Can a staff be too white, too black, or too male-dominated? Believe it or not, some organizations have unwritten quotas. There are organizations that do not care about diversity at all, despite the lip service they give to the topic. Here is an example. A very close friend of mine, a Black woman, worked as an attorney for a law firm. I say worked because she was let go last year. This law firm’s main office is located in an urban area with a population of more than one million people. This firm has offices all over the state. There are approximately 90 attorneys employed by this firm. Of that number approximately 80 of these attorneys are White men. There is one Latino male; the remaining are White women. Do the math!
Take the first step
The beginning of the end of poverty for us was the belief that better was possible. There was always hope.
Poverty is always one of the most difficult things for me to talk about. I was never aware of how dire my situation was as a child. My family guarded the children very well. Everyone around us was in the same predicament so we assumed that everything was normal. Using food stamps and WIC was an everyday occurrence. We always rushed off to school to get breakfast. No matter what was served for lunch we needed to eat. Everyone at school ate for free. With this method ten meals were provided per week.
I do not claim to be an expert on poverty. Everyone’s situation is different. I cannot give you a step-by-step process of how to get out of poverty. But I can tell you what can keep people in poverty: hopelessness.
Combat them by uniting as one
Did you notice the dramatic increase in hate groups once Barack Obama arrived in office? You can believe this is because of his politics, but I believe that it is because of his race. I have never in my life seen so much hatred for one person. History often teaches us that many of the most hated people were some of the world’s greatest heroes and she-roes. Obama had not even slept one night in his new home before the criticism began. All people should be willing to stand together and fight against hatred.
“When you hate, the only one that suffers is you because most of the people you hate don’t know it and the rest don’t care.”
-Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist
There is much work yet to be done. Despite the progress we as Black people and as a country believe we have made, it is not enough. I do not claim to have all of the answers. I do know that doing nothing is not an option.
“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”