The Washington Post Wonkblog reports that the position of most black men, relative to white men, is no better than how things stood after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965. That’s the sobering conclusion of a new paper by University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick, who find that the considerable economic progress among black men between 1940 and 1980 has halted, and in many cases reversed. A major driver of this shift has been the rise of more punitive treatments for criminal offenders, resulting in skyrocketing incarceration rates.
These changes “have had a much larger impact on black communities than white communities because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites,” the authors write. On any given day in 2010, about one in 10 black men ages 20-39 were institutionalized. The rate was much higher among black men without a high school diploma. Nearly a third of black male high school dropouts aged 25-29 were imprisoned or otherwise institutionalized. The authors write, “Prison spells harm the future labor market prospects of arrested offenders, and black men likely now face worse labor market prospects relative to white men than they faced when policy shifts in the late 1970s and early 1980s ignited the prison boom.”