FROM ISSUE NUMBER 23 ~ SPRING 2015 GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Helping Black Men Thrive

ROBERT CHERRY

The past year has witnessed several prominent public controversies involving the treatment of black men by law-enforcement authorities. In Ferguson, Missouri, in New York City, and elsewhere, troubling incidents raised questions about race and poverty, crime and punishment, and law and order. But beneath these more familiar debates are buried questions that are not taken up as often — questions about the state of black men in particular, and what might be done to help them improve their situations.

In the debate over the Ferguson grand-jury decision, for instance, detractors of the jury's conclusion focused on the last 15 seconds of the incident in question, when they believed the police officer should have held his fire. Defenders of the conclusion focused on the minutes leading up to the killing, when Michael Brown threatened the officer. Detractors focused on the larger context of police behavior toward black men, while defenders focused on Brown's past behavior. Neither addressed the destructive experiences that too many black men have during school or in the low-wage labor market afterward. Still less attention was paid to the turbulent family circumstances that ill-prepare many black men for life before they ever get to their teen years. Even if critics of police tactics get the changes they demand, there will be little impact on the education and employment of black men, or on their formative experiences at home.

To begin to address these larger problems, it is necessary to ask some basic questions: Why do so few black men graduate from high school? Why is the employment rate of black men, both in youth and during their prime working years, so low? Why was Eric Garner, who was killed during an altercation with New York police officers, reduced to hawking loose cigarettes on the street? The difficult conversation that the past year's troubling incidents demand should lead us to such questions.

WORK AND EDUCATION

Black men face growing employment problems. Between 2000 and 2014, the employment rate for black men aged 25 to 34 declined from 81.9% to 71.3%. While the white-male employment rate also declined over this period, the decline in the black-male rate was greater and significantly so. The racial employment-rate gap among these prime-working-age men rose from 9.8 to 13.9 percentage points, an increase of more than 40%. The teen employment rate for black men fell from 28.9% to 16.4%, also a larger percentage decline than for white teenagers.

What explains these growing racial disparities? Studies have consistently found that, when job applicants are plentiful, employers are much more reluctant to hire black workers. Often, all applicants with criminal records, those who live in high-crime areas, and those who cannot provide reliable personal recommendations are immediately screened out and don't make it to the interview stage. This screening process especially hurts black men.

These racial hiring disparities are more prevalent in the cases of more desirable jobs. According to data reviewed by Gregory Acs and Pamela Loprest of the Urban Institute, in 2007 three-quarters of white workers but only about half of black workers were hired for entry-level jobs for which having a high-school diploma, previous training or certification, or prior related work experience were extremely important. In addition, only one-quarter of less-educated black workers were employed in jobs that required computational skills, compared to half of less-educated white workers. As male employment contracted over the last decade, these differences would inevitably be more likely to cause black workers to be laid off first, providing one explanation for the increasing employment gaps between black and white men.

The question of why black men are often less competitive for jobs leads back to problems in school. Even among those without college degrees, on average black men have weaker academic skills than white men. Forty-three percent of black 17-year-olds were reading below basic proficiency in 2012, compared to only 19% of white 17-year-olds. These academic deficiencies translate into lower high-school graduation rates: 59% of black men graduate while 80% of white men do. In New York City, only 28% of black males complete high school on time; in Philadelphia, only 24% do. And black graduates, on average, have lower skill levels than white graduates.

Understandably, all of this has led to a focus on increasing high-school graduation rates. "We take kids that start [high school] a little behind and by the time they finish high school, they're way behind," says Amy Wilkins, former vice president at the Education Trust, a Washington-based educational-advocacy group (correction appended). "Education is supposed to level the playing field. And it does the opposite....While many people are celebrating our postracial society...there is still a significant hangover in our schools." That hangover, Wilkins suggests, is largely a function of a lack of resources in low-income school districts, unequal access to experienced teachers, and unconscious racial bias among teachers and administrators.

One of the barriers to graduation is the prevalence of school suspensions. Though black students comprise only 16% of public-school enrollment, they account for 42% of students given multiple suspensions. One recent study estimates that black secondary-school students are more than three times as likely to be suspended as white students. In response to this problem, the United States Department of Education issued new guidelines in 2014 urging states to move away from zero-tolerance and mandatory-suspension policies.

At the state and local level, and among non-profit advocacy groups, there has also been a rush to combat these disproportionate suspension rates. John Jackson, CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, has called for a moratorium on school suspensions altogether. Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson hopes to eliminate the "nonviolent suspension gap" by the year 2018. "To achieve this," she promised, the Minneapolis public schools would "aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years."

Considerable resources have been expended at the high-school level in an attempt to improve the performance of at-risk students. Not only have suspension policies been changed, but various strategies have been developed to provide opportunities for weak students to obtain credits sufficient for graduation. In New York City, there are so-called "transfer high schools" that are populated with students who are older than traditional high schoolers and those who have substantial credit deficiencies. These students also receive subsidized work experiences. Other programs focus on "disconnected" youth, those who are neither in school nor employed.

But these efforts are likely to have little success in improving the outcomes of black students, in large part because they do little to reduce the number of students who enter high school poorly prepared. Academic skill deficits appear early among children and persist, meaning that high-school interventions may be coming too late.

EARLY DEFICITS

Rather than entering high school with only modest deficits, as Wilkins suggests, many black students start the 9th grade substantially behind: In 2013, 39% of black students but only 14% of white students in 8th grade were reading below the basic competency level. By contrast, 46% of white but only 17% of black 8th graders scored above that basic level. And these racial gaps are virtually the same among 4th graders, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The share of black students below the basic level of reading competency diminishes somewhat as students progress through secondary school. These gains, however, are very modest and slightly larger among white students, meaning that racial gaps are not reduced. Thus, much more effort must be made to understand the reasons why black students exhibit substantial educational deficits even in primary school.

These deficits are exhibited when disadvantaged black children enter the school system. A field study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that young children in families on welfare hear about 3 million words in a year, whereas children in working-class families hear twice that number; children from professional families hear 11 million words per year. As a result, poor children entering kindergarten face a massive vocabulary deficit, having heard 32 million fewer words than kindergarteners from professional families. Parents in the lowest income quintile read on average 1.2 hours less per week to their 3- to 5-year-olds than parents at the median household income, according to research by Meredith Phillips of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Indeed, Richard Rothstein, a senior fellow at the Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that the testing standards of the No Child Left Behind law only compound the problem. "If you take children who come to school from families with low literacy, who are not read to at home, who have poor health — all these social and economic problems — and just say that you're going to test children and have high expectations and their achievement will go up, it doesn't work," Rothstein told the Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton in 2013. "It's a failure."

Many experts argue that stemming these deficits requires getting kids into the educational system at a very early age. Steve Suitts, then-vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, told Layton that, because their vocabularies are so much smaller than their more affluent peers when they enter kindergarten, low-income children need to be enrolled in quality preschool — ideally for more hours of the day and more weeks a year. Consistent with this viewpoint, the social-policy think tank MDRC found that after the 1996 welfare legislation, children actually did better in school than kids from similarly poor families that had simply received cash assistance under the old welfare rules. Jason DeParle, author of an influential ethnographic study of welfare reform, was not surprised by the MDRC results. "To the extent programs helped," he wrote, "they appeared to do so not by turning mothers into role models but by getting more kids into formal daycare. Reforming welfare, that is, didn't reform the house; it got the kids out."

Most liberal policy advocates did not embrace this position because it cast single mothers in an unfavorable light. Foremost amongst these critics is Kathryn Edin who, with co-author Maria Kefalas, wrote a full-throated defense of single mothers, Promises I Can Keep. They wrote, "The birth of a child can transform a young women who wants to be 'out partying and clubbing' or 'running the streets' to one who wants little more than to be at home with her child, who puts social life aside and makes her child's needs her top priority."

Indeed, the norm of self-sacrifice, they argued, is so strong that "a women risks social censure if she has nicer clothing than her children." Given how much these mothers sacrifice, Edin and Kefalas asserted, "we believe that the stronger preference for children among the poor [than middle-class mothers] can be seen in the propensity of the women we interviewed to put children, rather than marriage, education, or career, at the center of their meaning making activity." Unfortunately, Promises never makes clear how the mothers' ideals are reflected in their actual practices.

Despite their mothers' self-sacrifice, however, many poor children experience adverse outcomes. Edin and Kefalas reported that the mothers blame outside forces: "Spending time with their children is one of the most powerful tools women...feel they can use to shield their children from the dangers of their neighborhood's streets." Not only are there dangers on the streets but, according to Promises' parents, the school system is also the culprit. Edin and Kefalas wrote, "School removes children from the close parental supervision of their early years and exposes them to a peer environment mothers almost uniformly believe is negative. Thus beginning school represents the onset of a thirteen-year battle that mothers wage with these peers for the minds and hearts of their children."

Edin and Kefalas never mentioned the large skill deficits these children exhibit when entering the first grade, or the behavioral problems they exhibit at very early ages. During the 2011-12 school year, black students represented 18% of preschool enrollment but 42% of preschool students suspended once, and 48% of the students suspended more than once, according to the Department of Education. These initial behavioral and skill deficits are the real challenges facing the educational system. And the need to understand them takes us further back, into the troubled homes that form students in the first place.

THE FAMILY-GO-ROUND

At the center of these homes is turmoil among parents. In her most recent book on fathers (co-authored with Timothy Nelson), Edin no longer mentioned mothers' self-sacrifice. Instead, in a summary of the book, she described a fluid home situation, as an increasing share of mothers and fathers enter into serial romantic relationships:

When a mom moves from one relationship to another — playing gatekeeper with the biological father while putting her new boyfriend into the dad's role — she puts her kids on a 'father-go-round.'...

Meanwhile, the biological fathers themselves end up on a 'family-go-round,' having kids by other women in a quest to try to get what they long for — the whole father experience. Each new child with a different mom offers another chance — a clean slate. With eagerness, they once again invest every resource they can muster in service of that new fragile family. But while succeeding with a new child, they often leave others behind. So while they are good dads to some of their children, they end up being bad dads to others.

Multi-partner fertility is a widespread phenomenon among the poor. Karen Guzzo and Frank Furstenberg noted in 2007 that "most mothers having a second or higher order birth had had at least one child with a man other than the father of their newborn and that the fathers of newborns were equally likely to have had children with other women." In 2011, Cassandra Dorius estimated that, over their lifetimes, 59% of African-American mothers, 35% of Hispanic mothers, and 22% of white mothers reported multiple-partner fertility.

Edin and Nelson never describe the actual parenting of the fathers they interviewed. Instead, they focus exclusively on the idealism these men expressed: "Once you have children, then you got to live for them. It ain't just about you no more, it's about them," one father is quoted as saying. But how do these fathers actually do?

Pew Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys indicate that, on a range of measures, a very large share of fathers who do not live with their children have virtually no meaningful relationship with their non-custodial children. More than one-half report that they had not shared a meal with their non-custodial children in the last four weeks, while nearly two-thirds had not read to their children and a full three-quarters had not done homework with them. Moreover, these are self-reported figures, so the share of fathers with no relationship to their non-custodial children is most likely even higher.

When fathers form new romantic partnerships, their involvement with children from previous relationships declines. Jo Jones and William Mosher report that, while 39% of fathers in new romantic relationships had shared a meal with their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 62% of those not in a new romantic relationship had. While 55% of fathers in a new romantic relationship had spoken with their 5- to 18-year-old non-custodial children, 77% of those not in a new romantic relationship had.

In addition, men with less education are more likely to exhibit absent-father behavior. Whereas 70% of fathers with at least some college had talked to their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 59% of those with no more than a high-school degree had done so. While 74% of fathers with at least some college had played with their non-custodial child under 5 years old at least once in the past month, only 53% of those fathers with no more than a high-school degree had.

Multi-partner fertility is not only associated with father abandonment, it also adversely impacts child-maltreatment rates. Women attempting to balance work, the demands of new relationships, and the challenges of raising children are faced with a set of chronic stressors that often lead to child abuse and neglect. The shift from welfare to work increased these stresses. Partially as a result, between 1993 and 2005, the rate of overall abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and serious abuse, respectively, rose by 22%, 14%, 49%, and 34% for children living with single mothers. By contrast, for children living in two-parent households, child-abuse rates fell on each of the four measures (by 42%, 24%, 62%, and 37%, respectively). By 2005, the child-abuse rate was 2.9 per 1,000 for children living with married biological parents but 10.2 for those living with a single parent and no partner, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This disparity cannot be explained solely by socioeconomic status since the abuse rate for children in families of all kinds in the lowest socioeconomic group was still lower than that for children living in single-parent households.

Multi-partner fertility also increases child-abuse rates in a second way: the presence of non-biological fathers in the house. Child abuse in households with single mothers triples when they live with a man other than the child's father. Child-maltreatment rates are actually lower in black than white households when the mother lives alone. But unfortunately, many men bring their job and other frustrations into the home, creating abusive situations. As a result, when a partner is present, the black rates on all three measures of child maltreatment — emotional, physical, and endangerment — are almost double the white rates. In addition, rates of intimate violence are over 12 times higher for single mothers than for married mothers.

Edin and Nelson ignore the subject of abusive behavior in men. Instead, despite the fathers' caring attitudes, we are told, the mothers kick them out because they don't earn sufficient income. And on the impact of multi-partner fertility on children, Doing the Best I Can offers one benign sentence: "Kids are amazingly resilient, but the rate of family change among children of unwed fathers has become so rapid, and now leads to such complicated family structures, that kids might have a hard time adjusting."

Academic studies paint a much grimmer picture. After surveying the evidence, Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks concluded earlier this year,

[A] father's absence increases antisocial behavior [among children], such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child's verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father's absence lowers children's educational attainment...by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control.

The effects of growing up without both parents when it comes to aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan found in 2011 that the behavior of boys is far more dependent upon good parenting practices — spending time with a child, emotional closeness, and avoiding harsh discipline — than that of girls. Such parenting habits are far more common in two-parent families, which helps to explain why boys with absent fathers are more likely to be suspended and have other behavioral problems than boys who have both parents at home.

The evidence also indicates that the outcomes are most negative when a man other than the biological father is present. Cassandra Dorius and Karen Guzzo found that "adolescents with a half-sibling with a different father are about 65 percent more likely to have used marijuana, uppers, inhalants, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, sedatives, or other drugs by the time of their 15th birthday than those who have only full siblings." Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan reported in 2004 that, among fatherless boys, those who lived with stepfathers were at an even greater risk of incarceration than those who lived with a single mother.

FAMILY MATTERS

Without question, black men have been victimized by labor-market practices, but too many bring their frustrations with the outside world into the home, leading to mistreatment of mothers and children. As a result, their sons especially will struggle to live constructive lives. It is disheartening how many scholars and activists ignore or trivialize such behavior. And we certainly should not overstate how many black men act this way. But we must disabuse ourselves of narratives like Edin's that portray all poor black households as zones of safety where loving parents do the best they can despite the burden of poverty.

Just as disheartening and counterproductive has been the common unwillingness to consider home life as a key reason for the disproportionality in school suspensions. Instead, education reformers like Karen Howard contend that "implicit bias" is the explanation. The American Federation of Teachers had to walk a fine line in crafting its response to the U.S. Department of Education's recommendations to reduce suspensions last year. On the one hand, the union understood that suspensions had become excessive and needed to be reduced. On the other hand, it also understood that to stem anti-social behavior, schools needed funding for mental-health and intervention services for children. AFT president Randi Weingarten summed it up succinctly: "[P]olicies in a vacuum without actual resources and support will not succeed."

The evidence presented above also has important implications for understanding the effects of preschool education. Many observers reason that, if the problem to be solved is the deficient educational skills of disadvantaged young people when they enter the first grade, extensive early education could solve the problem. Studies find, however, that preschool has only limited long-term effects on the educational attainment of children. Some contend that these results are based on studies of low-quality facilities and that benefits would be more sustained if the government improved the pre-school services provided. But the problem to be solved is not just a deficiency of educational skills; there are also vital social skill deficits that are not being adequately addressed.

The principal national early-childhood program is Head Start, and, as the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss noted in 2013, "the national randomized trial of Head Start indicates that effects on social-emotional development and parenting are too small to produce the hoped for large long-term gains." This suggests that the program is insufficient to overcome the social problems that many black children bring to school from home.

SOME MODEST SOLUTIONS

When these young children exhibit behavioral problems in schools, in many situations school disciplinary actions are warranted. Educators know, however, that disciplinary actions alone will not change the situation: Counseling for both the child and the adults in his family would be more constructive. But counseling resources are not available in many K-5 settings. Indeed, in too many cases, the only way that these troubled children get more attention is if they are placed (or misplaced) in special-education classes.

As Weingarten correctly points out, reducing suspensions without providing the necessary resources to aid in the transformation of the home environment will be of limited value. Many more resources are necessary to respond in a holistic way when children act out. Counseling and social-work resources should be a priority if we really want troubled children to succeed. Hugh Price of the Brookings Institution has recently argued that the entire school must be restructured around overcoming the deficits in social and emotional learning that black students bring with them to the classroom. These students need much more intense and sustained interactions with teachers and counselors to learn the proper behavioral traits that they haven't learned at home.

Barring such a wholesale restructuring of the school environment, there are some more incremental improvements to be made, especially to respond to the particular school problems faced by boys. Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute (building on the work of Christina Hoff Sommers) has offered an array of policy ideas, particularly ones that aim to correct the chilling climate that boys (especially younger boys) experience in the school system: creating a more structured school environment for troubled boys; having more recess and gym time that includes activities in which boys "learn to manage their energies and aggressions in the context of agreed-upon norms"; and assigning enough boy-friendly action narratives and science fiction so that boys will be more engaged in reading.

For all at-risk students, it is critical to find ways to improve high-school performance. Many states have instituted career and technical education programs that link high-school students with college-credit courses. Studies have found that CTE programs in Florida and New York have enhanced educational advancement. Compared with other students in vocational high schools, Florida students who had direct links to college programs were 8.6% more likely to enroll in a four-year institution and 5.2% more likely to be enrolled in college courses two years after graduating from high school. Similar findings were found for the more limited number of linked CTE programs in New York City.

For many disadvantaged teenagers with weak academic skills, however, direct employment can be a crucial starting point on the path to sustained employment. As Katherine Newman's study of Harlem fast-food workers demonstrated, employment is important because it provides students with the soft skills that are needed for their long-term success: teamwork, interpersonal communication, and other key behavioral traits. It offers opportunities for networking and mentoring from a new set of social relationships. Michael Gritton, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board, which promotes teen employment in and around Louisville, Kentucky, noted in 2013 that "[t]here are economic returns to those young people because they get a chance to work. Almost every person you ask remembers their first job because they started to learn things from the world of work that they can't learn in the classroom."

Just as important, employment supplies spending money so that these adolescents do not have to engage in risky behavior to finance the consumption they expect and need. Unfortunately, teen employment rates remain quite low. Nationally, only one in ten black teenagers from low-income households is employed. Between 2007 and 2012, as employers shifted to older workers, the ratio of the teen employment rate to the rate for 20- to 24-year-olds (among all races) fell from one-half to two-fifths, and the ratio has hardly increased since then, despite the modest economic recovery.

Increasing employment is also crucial for young women. For many disadvantaged teen women, overreliance upon older working men for money often results in risky sexual behavior. Given the disproportionately high black poverty rate, black teen women are especially vulnerable, and studies have shown that female teen employment can reduce these coercive sexual relationships. Such risky sexual behavior also results in high pregnancy and abortion rates. Nationally each year, 10% of black teen women become pregnant — a rate two times higher than the white rate. The black teen-birth rate is only one-and-a-half times the white rate, however, because the black abortion rate is substantially higher than the white rate.

Almost three-quarters of black children are born to unwed mothers, so one solution to the risks that this trend creates may be to raise marriage rates — at the very least by undoing policies that (often unintentionally) penalize marriage. Certainly higher male employment rates should increase the desire for marriage. But low marriage rates are exacerbated by the large financial penalties many working single mothers must pay for getting married. Government now provides them with substantial income supports, but virtually all those benefits are lost if a woman marries a working partner. Given the way the Earned Income Tax Credit is structured, for instance, a mother of one who marries could lose almost $3,400 — or even more if she also qualifies for state EITC and other means-tested benefit programs like Section 8 housing vouchers.

There have been a number of proposals for eliminating at least the federal component of the marriage penalty. One of them is my New Mothers Tax Relief proposal, which would virtually eliminate the federal marriage penalty by extending full EITC benefits to families with incomes of $40,000 and then slowly reducing them. In addition, about $2,000 in new benefits would be extended to lower-middle-class married couples with preschool-aged children. These families often face financial pressures when they have very young children, pressures that can cause marital tensions and disruptions.

But ultimately, the best way to improve opportunities for black families is to reduce the unemployment rate among black men. For young men and teens in particular, work reduces the temptation and opportunity to engage in illegal activities. And the positive impacts of increased male employment on household dynamics would be greatly increased if it were linked to counseling that could affect behaviors. Virtually every program that attempts to move disadvantaged young men into the paid workforce spends considerable time first improving their soft skills. Most relevant here are the interpersonal skills to handle conflicts with supervisors and work effectively in groups. A focus on these interpersonal skills is especially prominent among re-entry programs for ex-offenders or those for disconnected youth.

Indeed, the same skills are necessary to maintain healthy personal relationships. The most effective programs funded under President George W. Bush's Healthy Relationship Initiative were those that stressed conflict management. Reporting on an Oklahoma program for low-income women, Katherine Boo noted, "Pairing off for role-playing, the students learned to refrain from saying to a man who disappointed them, 'You're an oily, two-timing toad,' and to say instead, 'When you did x, in situation y, I felt z.'" Boo emphasized that "[t]hey practiced swallowing their rage, articulating their grievances specifically and respectfully, recognizing when a fight might turn violent, and listening with open minds to imaginary mates."

Given the unstable work experiences of many black fathers, it is reasonable to hypothesize that improved employment would lower child-maltreatment rates. Some past studies found no systematic relationship between local unemployment rates and child-maltreatment rates, but studies that focus instead on the gender-specific employment rate may be more appropriate. Using state-level data, Chun Wang and I have found a strong, inverse relationship between the employment rate of men 25 to 34 years old and child-maltreatment rates across a wide range of specifications. Indeed, in all specifications, a 10% increase in the male employment rate is predicted to reduce the child-maltreatment rate by at least 12%. Thus, our study provides yet another reason why it is critical to improve male employment rates, and there is preliminary evidence that increased employment would also lower rates of partner violence.

Given the large share of black men who have criminal records, improving their employment prospects will require some changes in how prospective employers approach such applicants. Transitional employment policies can be important as well. In Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men, Lawrence Mead of New York University suggests a number of proposals that can help move black men in such circumstances into paid employment.

In addition, many municipalities have changed their hiring practices to make sure that applicants with criminal records are treated fairly. These new procedures delay asking about criminal records until the final stages of the hiring process, once either the applicant has been selected for an interview or the city has made a conditional offer of employment. Minneapolis adopted this procedure, known as "ban the box," in 2006. When the old application form was used, less than 6% of those with criminal records were hired. By contrast, with the new procedure, Minneapolis hired 60% of those whose criminal records were reported at the last stages of the hiring process.

While a number of government agencies have adopted "ban the box," it is critical to spread these practices to the private sector as well. Boston has legislated that such procedures be used by all private vendors that enter into new contracts with the city and that city agencies must "review the vendor's [hiring] policies...as part of the process of evaluating the vendor's performance under the contract," according to a National League of Cities review of the ordinance. This approach should be duplicated elsewhere.

TOWARD EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

These employment, schooling, and family-formation proposals may be perceived as too incremental by the ideological left. Despite their very modest costs, they may be dismissed as too expensive by the right.

But given the available evidence about what kinds of policies and interventions are most likely to help, such moves should be seen as vital first steps toward helping black men confront the disadvantages they face and affording them the opportunity to rise and to thrive in America.

Correction: Amy Wilkins is a former vice president at the Education Trust, not a current vice president as the article originally stated.

Robert Cherry is a professor of Economics at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center and is co-author of Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work (NYU Press).