Report: Black men in South face many disparities

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, December 9, 2008

When compared to their white counterparts, black males in the South are more likely to drop out of school, lack health insurance or die in a homicide, a new report says.

The Foundation for the Mid South’s report also found that only 9.6 percent of black men in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi had earned a college degree. The figure for white men was 18.4 percent.

The foundation, which focuses on quality of life issues in the three-state region, hopes to use the report to effect policy changes and social and community strategies that will improve conditions that contribute to the disparities.

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The report focused on men and boys ages 16 to 44 because that demographic tends to reflect stark gaps between the races in poverty, low graduation rates, high unemployment, poor health and high incarceration rates.

“A lot of these conversations are being held nationally, but not in our region,” said Chris Crothers, the report’s author. “We don’t have an initiative that focuses just on black males. We feel that there should be a field that’s developed around these issues.”

He said the foundation has sent copies of the report, which was released last week, to lawmakers, nonprofits and business leaders.

“We have always thought that if you ignore vulnerable populations, it undermines the quality of life for everybody,” Crothers said.

The three-state region has a significantly high number of counties or parishes where blacks comprise over 50 percent or more of the population, the report said.

Overall, blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but in the mid-South, the population is 26 percent black. The highest percentage of blacks is in Mississippi, where they make up over a third of the state’s population.

One of the leading indicators for the disparities was poverty. The region’s poverty rate is 17.3 percent, about five percent higher than the national average.

In Louisiana and Mississippi, the average median net worth in non-white households was $5,100. That’s 14 times less than that of their white peers, according to the report, which was based mostly on census data.

Rep. George Flaggs, Jr., D-Vicksburg, chairman of the Mississippi House Banking Committee, said an emphasis on tax credits and incentives has been policymakers’ answer to improving economic conditions in the state.

“We have to create policies that make education and health care more accessible to young black males. That has not been a priority. That’s the problem,” Flaggs said.

In Mississippi, 46.9 percent of black males are uninsured, compared with 25.3 percent of white males. And, 23.5 percent of black males in the three-state region don’t have a high school diploma. The figure for white males was 16.4 percent.

The report, citing U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, said black male homicide rates were 8.3 times higher than white males.

Crothers said following the lead of organizations, such as the New York-based 21st Century Foundation, would be a good starting point for officials in the three southern states.

The 21st Century Foundation provides grants and encourages philanthropic giving for strategies and programs geared toward issues affecting black males.

A three-year program the foundation began in 2006 has already made a positive impact at a Chicago high school, said Julia Beatty, a program officer at 21st Century.

Misconduct reports decreased by 46 percent between April 2007 and April 2008 at Dyett High School, and the student arrest rate dropped by 82 percent over the same period of time, Beatty said.

The school’s graduation rate increased by 57 percent during the second year of the program, which trained students in handling peer conflicts and disciplinary matters.

The school’s graduation rate increased by 57 percent during the second year of the program, which trained students in handling peer conflicts and disciplinary matters.

“We see education access as a starting point for the ability of black men and boys being able to have good jobs, being able to raise families and have an increased quality of life,” said Beatty.