October 16 marks the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, when Minister Louis Farrakhan called on black men to convene on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to atone for their shortcomings, strive to become better and return to their communities and improve them.
Twenty years later, looking at where black men find themselves today, it is a mixed bag, filled with accomplishments, successes and gains but also lost ground, missed opportunities and challenges.
In the area of economics, African-American male unemployment was 8.8 percent at the time of the Million Man March, and 8.6 percent today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And among black men ages 18-24, 1 in 3 does not have work. And in 2013, 12.4 percent of black college graduates between 22 and 27 were unemployed, as opposed to 5.6 percent for all college graduates of that age range. Median income has not changed much either for black men, from $24,709 in 1995 to $26,433 in 2014 dollars.
Meanwhile, the racial wealth gap is widening, as the Great Recession, the subprime mortgage crisis and institutional racial discrimination led to historic losses in black wealth, as whites have gained in net worth and black folks have fallen behind. Employment discrimination for black people is real, as studies have shown that white men with a recent criminal record are much more likely to receive calls for job interviews than blacks with no criminal background at all.
In addition, white households enjoyed seven times the net worth of blacks in 1995, but this gap has ballooned to 13 times in 2013. On a bright note, the black community has over $1 trillion in spending power, which could work to the benefit of the black community should it choose to practice cooperative economics and spend our dollars among our community and where we are respected, as we always hear during Kwanzaa time.
Further, black-owned businesses increased 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007, for a total of 1.9 million black companies. During that time, black businesses experienced a 55 percent increase of receipts, and there was also a 13 percent increase of businesses with paid employees. Yet black-owned businesses are only 7 percent of all U.S. firms and less than half of 1 percent of all U.S business receipts.
Looking at education, in 1995, 73.4 percent of black men had high school diplomas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, in 2004, that figure increased to 84.3 percent. Meanwhile, 13.7 percent of black men age 25 and older held a bachelor’s degree in 1995, as opposed to 21 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, in terms of health, black men continue to be the most vulnerable population in America. While two decades ago, African-Americans were more than three times as likely to die from gun violence than whites, that gap has narrowed somewhat. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, blacks are more than twice as likely to die from gun violence, with a death rate of 18.5 per 100,000 from 2000 to 2010, but only 9 for whites and 7 for Latinos. Compared to other developed countries, black Americans are killed at a rate 12 times higher than other developed countries — the highest rate in the industrialized world, and similar to Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Rwanda and Myanmar.
Moreover, for young black men aged 20 to 24, the leading cause of death is gun violence — as opposed to car accidents for everyone else — according to the Centers for Disease Control, as they are four times more likely to be shot and killed than they are to die in a car accident. The firearm death rate for young black men is 90 per 100,000, and 7 per 100,000 for young black women. Gun violence was the main cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009, accounting for the deaths of 2,320 black children and teens and 13,471 injuries.
In 2010, blacks accounted for 55 percent of all gun homicides, though they are 13 percent of the population. Thankfully, the black homicide death rate has declined by half since its peak in 1993, and the number of black homicide deaths declined by 37 percent from 1993 to 2010.
For every 100 black women between ages 25 and 54 who are not in jail, there are only 83 black men, which means there are 1.5 million missing black men in America. 900,000 are attributed to homicide, heart disease, respiratory disease and accidents — from which black men die more often than anyone else, including black women — while nearly 600,000 are accounted for through high incarceration.
In 1995, there were 510,760 incarcerated black men, which increased to 630,629 in 2011. About 6 percent of working-age black men are currently in prison or in jail, a rate which is three times higher than for all working-age men. Further, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
The criminal justice system never served black men well, and while the numbers bear this out, there is both cause for alarm and room for hope. The police made 3.5 million arrests of black people in 1994, according to the FBI, accounting for 30.9 percent of all arrests. That year, 7.6 million whites were arrested, or 66 percent of the total. But in 2013, black arrests fell to 2.5 million, or 28 percent of all arrests — still way too high, but an improvement nonetheless.
At the time of the Million Man March, not unlike today, vigilante violence and police brutality plagued the black community. In 2015, the problem of violence against black bodies continues, but there is a black-led #BlackLivesMatter movement to reform the criminal justice system, to which government must respond. “Twenty years ago, the death of Tamir Rice would have fallen on deaf ears and been left for the police to write a false report, not broadcast for the world to know,” Tamika Mallory, rally organizer, told the crowd at the October 10 #JusticeOrElse! march to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March.
Twenty years later, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove