Building Pathways to Postsecondary Success for Low-Income Young Men of Color
Linda Harris, director of youth policy, and Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, senior policy analyst, co-authored a chapter in the recently published book Changing Places: How Communities Will Improve the Health of Boys of Color. The book "draws attention to the urgent need-both economic and moral-to better understand the policy and community-based factors that serve as opportunities or barriers for young men and boys of color as they make critical life decisions."
Ms. Harris and Ms. Duke-Benfield's chapter examines why it is essential to invest in access to postsecondary education opportunities for young men of color and to ensure their success. Following is an excerpt from the chapter introduction.
Many of the millions of young men of color who have dropped out of school have the talent, ability, and aspirations for a better future and can benefit from being connected to a supported pathway to postsecondary credentials. This tremendous pool of talent and potential, if properly supported and channeled, can help close the skills gap in the United States and greatly contribute to the nation's productivity and competitiveness.
However, converting this raw talent into skilled workers with the credentials and mastery for the twenty-first-century economy will require considerable rethinking of how our secondary, postsecondary, workforce, adult education, youth development, and youth recovery systems work in tandem to build the supports and create the pathways at some scale to bring these youth back into the education and labor-market mainstream.
For many young men of color, particularly those residing in communities of concentrated poverty, finding and retaining work is a considerable challenge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January 2010 only 28 percent of black men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four were working, compared with 43 percent of Hispanic men and 44 percent of white men in the same age category (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010b). The percentage of young men working across all racial groups has declined dramatically in less than a decade. In 2002, 41 percent of black men, 78 percent of Hispanic men, and 60 percent of white men ages sixteen to twenty-four were working (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2002).
While the expectation isn't that all youth should be employed, the precipitous decline in youth employment in general, the dramatic decline in employment rates for young Hispanic men, and the persistently high level of joblessness for young black men is cause for concern and reason for action.
Although male joblessness in communities of color has been an issue for decades, the recent economic recession has had a calamitous impact on the labor-market prospects for youth of color. The slow jobless recovery combined with historical barriers presents a crisis for young men of color, the communities in which they live, and the families they will not be able to support.
The ages from sixteen to twenty-four represent the formative years for developing labor-market skills. Through early work experiences, part-time and summer jobs, internships, and other vocational and career awareness experiences, youth are exposed to the expectations of the workplace, learn workplace skills, develop a work portfolio, and have the opportunity to explore their interests. Studies have demonstrated that early work experience positively correlates with future labor-market success and earnings.
The lack of access to jobs during this critical developmental period has an impact on the earnings capacity of young men of color well into their adulthood as they take on family, civic, and personal responsibilities.
Thus, we must dramatically increase the number of young men of color who are equipped with the postsecondary skills and credentials they will need to obtain opportunities in the labor market. We must also about improve their access to jobs that will provide them with stable employment at decent wages and opportunities for advancement. The solutions must be at a scale to close the gaps between young white men and men of color in terms of education attainment, labor-market penetration, and earnings.
The situation is complex. The solutions to address employment disparities require making the labor-market situation of young men of color the central focus for strategic action and assembling the talent, resources, and innovation to address the multiplicity of barriers that have historically impeded their stable employment at decent wages.