The reason why young black men can’t work
The following post originally appeared on ColorLines as part of its “Life Cycles of Inequity” series. The series explores the ways in which inequity impacts the lives of black men. Each month, we focus on a life stage or event in which that impact has been shown to be particularly profound. Previously, we focused on implicit bias in the classroom. This piece was written by Kai Wright, and appears under the original title, “Why Young, Black Men Can’t Work.”
By: Kai Wright
The first thing you notice about Dorian Moody is how easily he laughs. He punctuates conversation on just about any topic with a shy smile and a disarming chuckle. It comes out as a self-mocking accent when he describes his initial boredom with high school. “My mother was like, you can’t fail,” he says with a smirk. “Alright, so I’m gonna give you Ds!” It takes the edge off of his raw pride when he describes his later academic revival, which began after his whole family sat him down and warned he’d be “a nobody” if he kept screwing around. And it softens his chiding response when I comment on the peaceful, spring vibe of his Irvington, N.J., neighborhood, on the western edge of Newark. “Well, go up to that corner and see what the Bloods think of that.”
Moody’s easy laughter emphasizes his already boyish looks, and together they make him seem even younger than his 21 years. But he’s facing decidedly grown-folks challenges today.
When Moody graduated high school, he didn’t yet know what he wanted to do with his life; he knew only that he wanted money urgently. “It’s not cool when you’re 18 and you can’t even buy yourself deodorant,” he says. “I don’t sit well with that. I wanna be able to provide for myself and my family.” He’s the youngest in a family of workers—a brother who’s in security, a sister who’s in daycare, a mom who’s starting a new career in drug counseling at age 69. Moody was eager to chip in, too. And yet, all his ambition notwithstanding, his work life has thus far been shaped by the coincidence of two banal facts: He graduated in the year 2010 and he is a black man.
Today, nearly a fifth of recent high school grads are, like Moody, neither employed nor enrolled in further schooling, according to analysis of federal jobs data by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “That’s a huge population of young people,” says Alyssa Davis, who co-authored the report. “We are in a bad situation for high school graduates,” she deadpans.
It’s a bad situation with uniquely dire ramifications for young black men, who even in good years were already falling out of the workforce in disturbingly large numbers. Now, as the job market continues to tighten and wages overall continue to fall, black men are being washed even further out of the formal economy by the currents of race and gender that shape so much of today’s work life.
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