Study by Hillard Pouncy: New Policies Needed to Support Less Educated Young Men

Mar 7, 2006
Woodrow Wilson School





Over the past decade low-income women, especially minorities and single mothers, have made significant strides in entering the labor market, in large part due to welfare reform policies, educational incentives and work support initiatives, such as childcare assistance. But low-income men have not fared as well. While the 1990s ushered in an overall increase in employment rates, and employment rates among young white and Hispanic males fluctuated slightly from eighty plus percent between 1979 and 1999, the rates for their black counterparts decreased from 60 percent in 1979 to 50 percent in 1999.

To address this issue, Hillard Pouncy, Visiting Lecturer of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, has authored a new study, "Toward a Fruitful Policy Discourse about Less Educated Young Men," that reviews current political and policy barriers to helping young men, and demonstrates why new research is needed to alleviate such obstacles.

The study is included as a chapter in a new book titled Black Males Left Behind, published by the Urban Institute and edited by Ronald M. Mincy, Columbia University, and explores this crisis among young black men. The book summarizes work done for the Mott Foundation sponsored Extending Opportunities Project (EOP) on how young, less educated black men fared in the economic boom of the 1990s.

Pouncy contends that while there is a growing crisis of incarceration rates and low employment among young black men, the problem is not entirely race-based. Citing work by Bruce Western, a Princeton sociologist, he asserts that if less educated young men could change their skin color or their ethnicity, their employment and incarceration issues would be reduced but not eliminated. If, however, their educational levels went beyond high school, issues of incarceration and unemployment would essentially "vanish," according to Pouncy.

The author analyzes data from the 1979 Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). The NLSY79, conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, surveys 12,686 young men and women nationwide between the ages 14-22 years old. Individuals were interviewed annually through 1994 and have since been interviewed on a biennial basis.

Ultimately, Pouncy finds that the incarceration rate is higher among young black males versus their white and Hispanic counterparts. As such, he asserts young black males as a group are "guilty by association," and are perceived as a risk among employers, whether they have a criminal record or not. Pouncy asserts that until legislators see evidence that programs that assist young low income males result in an increase in employment, policy initiatives to assist this population will remain stagnant. Hence a catch-22 policy situation emerges, in which the investments necessary to produce evidence about useful programs and policies are stymied by lack of evidence.