May 25, 2015
Getting Behind the Obvious #3
What causes the high amount of crime in urbane areas in the US and especially among young African American males? What causes the high unemployment among African American young people? I have seen statistics that among Black Americans males between the ages of 20 to 30 it is as high as 22 to 25%. That is much higher than it was seven years ago when President Obama took office. In other words, whatever he has done, it has not lowered the unemployment rate but has had the effect of raising the level of unemployment. And I’m sure that is the last thing he wanted. Yet it has happened. Further, some ten million more Americans are now receiving food stamps during the past seven years. And yet billions and billions of more dollars have been spent trying to alleviate poverty. So far, it has not only not worked, it has made things worse.
Now having a job is, for most people, a basic condition for feeling self-confidence, self-respect, and satisfied with things. When you have a job, when you have employable skills, and when you have a sense of self-efficacy about your career pathway, life seems more satisfying and just. Without that, what will people feel and experience? Self-distrust, maybe self-contempt, dissatisfaction, stress, frustration, anger … and without doubt, these will be the people who have nothing to lose —so they will be the ones most likely to riot and loot when the opportunity appears. These will be the people who will feel contempt and hatred toward “authority,” any authority, and especially the police since they are the first responders to crime and any disturbance of the police.
All of these factors have been coming together in the recent riots and looting in Ferguson Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. On the surface, people and the media has defined “the problem” as “race relationships,” as “police brutality,” and so on. But those are red herrings. Distractions. Racists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton want it to be about race relationship, they want it to be simplistically that white people are creating injustice against black people. Their multiple-million Foundations have vested interests in “race” being the problem. Yet if they were truly interested in the well-being of black people and the black community, they would speak out just as strong against black on black crime which happens to be five times greater than white on black crime. And they would equally condemn black on white crime. But they do not.
Behind the poverty and unemployment are these economic issues and problems. Current statistics show that today the economy is worse for the average person in the USA than when he took office. It is down 6% for the average family while taxes are up, and for many, taxes are up a lot. Entrepreneurs and small business owners have is much worse—which is why they generally have not been hiring or investing. Regulations and taxes are putting such a squeeze on them that they in term are not hiring or expanding. It is even worse for all those at a level where they are just barely getting by. And worse of all, those at the bottom of the economic level.
The economic situation has been creating a greater and greater discontent. With fewer jobs available those less qualified are the first to become unemployed. This breeds crime. If there’s a much greater possibility for making lots of money in crime (drugs, theft), then crime becomes more attractive and then more prevalent.
Yet we are still not done digging down behind things. What is behind these economic problems? As business people invest less, there are less jobs, people hold back on spending, then with rioting and looting, those areas that get destroyed and burned out, fewer and fewer people are willing to risk their money to invest in those areas, so more businesses close shop. Then it becomes a vicious circle. Now we have blighted out areas in urbane areas that become the habitat of gangs and drugs.
Additionally there is the problem of being un-employable. Young people graduating high schools in those areas, or having dropped out and then reaching the age of graduation without a sufficient education, now they are without commercially viable skills to get a job. So no one wants to hire them. They have nothing to contribute. And if they do land a job, often their attitude does not allow them to keep the job. If they have a sense of entitlement or a disdain for what they have to do or what they receive from the job, they tend not to learn on the job and become more skilled so that they can progress in their career development. Another vicious circle ensues. They go through job after job and live as much on unemployment as on contributing and eventually drop out of the search and become the permanently unemployed— angry at “the system” that they don’t understand and do not have the skills to handle.
Let’s back up yet another step. What are the schools in the inner cities, the teachers, and the homes and parents doing that’s contributing to all of this? A big problem in most urban black areas is a mental frame which is against studying, learning, and improving one’s educational level. And while there are great role models for this, Bill Cosby being the most obvious one, there seems to be a continual conspiracy against him, a conspiracy to undermine his influence and his voice. He has been consistently a voice for decades for keeping families together and getting educated. But the assumptive frames in far too many black communities is that education means becoming white, becoming a nerd, giving in, etc.
The anti-educational bias that is now deeply embedded in the culture in most families in the inner city leads to so many of young people being unemployable or hardly employable for what few jobs there are. Their basic communication skills in reading, writing, and communicating are so inadequate that they are hardly able to perform. So also their math skills and social skills.
Where there is a culture of learning, there is a culture of discipline. There’s the willingness to work for, put the effort in for, and give oneself over the long-term to learning and development. These “manly” values are usually connected with a strong father image in the home. Yet this is precisely what is lacking in so many homes. Something like 70% of all African American babies are born of single moms. Where are the dads? Where is the sense of responsibility?
Contributing to all of this is another larger cultural factor—the Hollywood culture. Movies, songs, internet, cable, magazines, blogs, etc. all encourage exaggerated expectations in young people so that so many have a sense of entitlement. They see movie stars, sport heros, musicians, etc. make outrageous amounts of money and they want in on the action. One survey a few years ago said that of high school graduates, 65% believed that they could be, and had a good chance of becoming, a famous movie star. Talk about some unrealistic expectations!
What’s behind it all? The answer is lots of things. There is no single cause, there are a multitude of causes and, in addition, many contributing factors. We could add with the breakup of homes and the weakening of traditional moral values, there is growing a lack of community so that young people in urbane areas are attracted to gangs for a place where they feel they belong.
Where do we start to correct all of these social and cultural problems? Wherever we are and wherever we can. Politically we need a responsible fiscal policy that allows small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive and grow because that’s where most people work. We need to treat our economics politically as we would if it were our private home budget—spend only what we have and not extend credit so that we create a deeper and deeper hole. We need also to encourage everyone to assume full responsibility for themselves—for developing skills, for contributing value to others, for continuing to learn, etc.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.