Short Takes: Unemployment, Incarceration, Discrimination Enforcement

A New Lecture: “Anti-Black Discrimination in the Age of Obama” by Dr. Algernon Austin

The simplistic idea that impoverished African Americans have only themselves to blame for their poverty, due to their poor cultural values—a notion advanced by many, including black public figures such as Bill Cosby—is believable only if a blind eye is turned to those inconvenient things social scientists like to call “facts.” Algernon Austin soundly refutes the “culture of poverty” argument by paying careful attention to marco-economic data about long-term poverty trends and sociological case studies about persistent discrimination. In other words, unlike the glib punditry, Austin actually looks at the “facts.”
--Dr. Andrew Hartman, professor and audience member, Illinois State University

Contact Dr. Austin to arrange a speaking engagement.

Among College-Educated, Blacks Hit Hardest by Recession

Fifteen months into a deep recession, college-educated white workers still had a relatively low unemployment rate of 3.8% in March of this year. The same could not be said for African Americans with four-year degrees. The March 2009 unemployment rate for college-educated blacks was 7.2%—almost twice as high as the white rate—and up 4.5 percentage points from March 2007, before the start of the current recession (see chart). Hispanics and Asian Americans with college degrees were in between, both with March 2009 unemployment rates of 5%. [Read More]

Decline in Blacks Incarcerated for Drug Offenses

  • The number of African Americans in state prisons for a drug offense declined by 21.6% from 1999-2005, a reduction of more than 31,000 persons.
  • The number of whites incarcerated for a drug offense rose significantly during this period, an increase of 42.6%, representing an additional 21,000 persons in prison.
[Read the report summary] [Full report, PDF]

Among the things too many of the pundits missed was the large decline in crime over the 1990s. A new report, The Changing Racial Dynamic of the War on Drugs reveals another facet of that decline--the decline in blacks incarcerated for drug offenses. In 1999, 144,700 blacks were in state prison for drug offenses. In 2005, the number was 113,500. This change reduced the shared of blacks incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses from 57.6 percent to 44.8 percent. This is a substantial decline and it should be celebrated.

Nonetheless, there are still too many blacks--as well as people of other races--incarcerated for drug offenses. Marc Mauer, the author of the report, observes "the number of people incarcerated for a drug offense is [still] greater than the number incarcerated for all offenses in 1980." He adds:
Overall, two-thirds of persons incarcerated for a drug offense in state prison are African American or Latino. These figures are far out of proportion to the degree that these groups use or sell drugs. A wealth of research demonstrates that much of this disparity is fueled by disparate law enforcement practices. In effect, police agencies have frequently targeted drug law violations in low-income communities of color for enforcement operations, while substance abuse in communities with substantial resources is more likely to be addressed as a family or public health problem.
While the number and share of blacks incarcerated for drug offenses declined, the number and share for whites increased. These findings did not completely surprise me because, in 2007, I noted the following in an op-ed [PDF]:
Another important source is the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). DAWN tracks illicit drug use among visitors to emergency rooms in major metropolitan areas. DAWN’s numbers for substance abuse increased by nearly 50 percent between 1995 and 2002. A large part of this increase was due to white people. The number of whites visiting emergency rooms with cocaine in their system, for example, doubled from about 40,000 in 1995 to about 80,000 in 2002. There were no significant increases among blacks or Hispanics.
The trends that Mauer found among whites matches the trends in the DAWN database.

Discrimination Cases Up, Number of Anti-Discrimination Enforcers Down

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing the nation's job discrimination laws, is facing its largest caseload in at least a quarter-century with sharply diminished staffing and resources, according to commission and union officials.

More than 95,400 charges of job bias in the private sector were filed in fiscal year 2008, up 15.2 percent from the previous year and up 26 percent from 2006. But the size of the EEOC staff, which is responsible for investigating the complaints, has steadily decreased in size and now numbers 2,192, down from approximately 2,850 in 2000.
[Read more] [Some graphs]

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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