Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tonetalks Show: No CNN, Black Men Are Not Successful Economically in America (Watch)

*At first glance, the recently published article by CNN entitled “Black Men Are Succeeding In America”, sounds like a positive statement about the racial progress of America. Who does not want to hear that black males are progressing in a country that has so clearly made their advancement not only difficult, but in some cases, by law, impossible?

But the reality is that the study which underlies the report—which was issued by conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI)—is flawed in myriad ways, and does more to complicate our understanding of race in America than to provide an accurate depiction of the present condition of black men in America.

The report, entitled “Black Men Making it in America”, depends on two main points to prove their assertion of black male progress. First, the progress of black males ages 54-61 throughout their life span, and secondly, an analysis of black male incomes relative to the poverty line over time. Neither of these assessments are an honest nor helpful way of determining whether or not black men are actually succeeding in today’s America.

1)      Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) the authors W. Bradford Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Ronald B. Mincy argue,Tracking black men from young adulthood through their 50s…we identified three factors that are associated with their success: education, work, and marriage.”  The issue, however, is that their review of black males who are among the youngest baby boomers does not support an assessment of working-age black males today; men who are struggling through an economy that has turned against them. One cannot track the stages of life for someone 61 in America today to review the prospects of any group—particularly black males—because the economic landscape is not static. In fact, when looking at the economics of the moment, it is highly erratic. Economist Thomas Piketty, the author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, recently observed that the level of inequality in the United States—for those who work for a living—“is probably higher than in any other society, at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.”  In other words, wealth has calcified in the hands of the rich, wages have stagnated, and incarceration has boomed, a set of conditions which—in their data—go unaccounted for. As Professor Sandy Darity of Duke University stated it, “Late baby boomers probably had the most access to new opportunities than any black cohort in America, coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, before Reagan.”


2)
      Secondly the study’s use of the poverty line creates an artificially low barometer to determine progress. Since the creation of the poverty line in 1960, it has not been adjusted consistently to make any accurate determination of what it means as a threshold in contemporary society. As shown in thenation.com article “The Federal Poverty Line Is Too Damn Low,”

In 1963, the poverty line for a family of four was 50 percent below the median family income—or one-half of the income of the typical four-person family in America. Today, however, the poverty line for a family of four is nearly 75 percent below the median family income… When the federal government started using her calculation of the poverty line in the mid-1960s, Orshansky and federal officials understood that it would need to be adjusted over the long term for increases in mainstream living standards. The SSA “made a tentative decision early in 1968 to adjust the poverty thresholds for the higher general standard of living.” But then two things happened that year. First, officials in the Johnson administration prohibited the SSA from making this kind of adjustment, likely in part due to concern that the updated figures would show an increase in poverty. Second, Richard Nixon was elected president. After he took office, his budget office issued a directive making the Orshansky thresholds the “official” poverty measure, and specifying that they would be adjusted for inflation only.

The fact that the AEI study states “the share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% today” is an inaccurate assessment of the data, and largely indeterminable due to how the measurement of the poverty line has not been changed over time.

In addition, it is unclear if incarcerated men are largely left out of the poverty data, which—given the rates of incarceration for American black males—would make a pronounced difference in any comparable findings. Also it cannot be understated that their reliance on income as a measure of access to the middle class, and not wealth is an inaccurate measure of economic progress.

In total, the study done by the conservative think tank AEI, and then published by CNN, may prove some older black males did well at one point in American history. But what it does not prove is that Black males in America are succeeding by any economic measure today.

Antonio Moore is an attorney based in Los Angeles and one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary Freeway: Crack in the System. He has contributed pieces to Huffington Post, The Grio, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow him on Twitter and YouTube.

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