Ferguson: Time to put the brakes on the Kid Bashing?

Teen PostOne of the more unfortunate responses from white voices to the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri is the “Get A Job!” refrain.  Thus far members of the Great Uninformed have taunted a financial analyst, and generally assumed that if a person were on the street protesting the individual ‘must’ be unemployed. It’s a good guess, but not a rational assumption.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Approximately 47% of young men aged 16 to 24 in St. Louis County are unemployed. [Guard] However horrifying that statistic may be, it still means that over half of the young men in the county are, in fact, working.  To another point, I have a problem with putting 16 and 17 year old kids in the employment statistics generally, even though the technical notes from the BLS advise counting only those who have looked for work in the target four week period.   Call me old fashioned, but my idea of what a 16 or 17 year old youngster should be doing is Being In School.  That’s their job — to be in school.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with compiling statistics on how difficult  boys and girls find getting a summer job, or on trends about their part time employment, BUT my bottom line is that young people 16 and 17 years old have no business being included in employment statistics other than on a seasonal basis.

Education, Education, Education

Speaking of school.  About 37% of young African American young men are enrolled in college.  That’s too low, but again there’s a need for some perspective.

“Increasing numbers and percentages of Black and Hispanic students are attending college. Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of college students who were Black rose from 11.7 to 15.1 percent, and the percentage of students who were Hispanic rose from 9.9 to 14.3 percent (source). Also, the percentage of Black 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college increased from 30.5 percent in 2000 to 37.1 percent in 2011 and the percentage of Hispanics enrolled increased from 21.7 to 34.8 percent (source).”  [NCES]

More young Blacks and members of the Hispanic community are, in fact, enrolled in college.  We also need to remember that the cohort is a declining one, the general 18 to 24 year old category is expected to be reduced in the next decade by about 4%, so a 13.9% predicted increase in college enrollment is a pretty positive thing. [IHE]

So, before the Great Uninformed pass judgment on the kids, they should know that the odds are about 50/50 they are yelling at someone who does have a job, and that they are spewing on about kids who are more likely to have plans for college than the previous cohort.

College isn’t the only thing those ear-bud inserting cocked hatted little Apples of Mother’s Eye are doing — there are also apprenticeship programs, with an national enrollment of 164,000 in FY 2013; and, across the nation about 375,000 individuals are currently receiving apprentice training. [DoL] As of mid 2013 there were another 60,000 signed up for Job Corps training at 125 centers nationwide. [JC]

It’s probably not occurred to the Great Uninformed that the individual they are currently insulting could be the person who will show up after completing their training from the air-conditioning repair service to fix their AC, or stop the flood in the bathroom, or get the transmission repaired in the family wagon.  On that fine day, the baggie pants T-Shirt clad ‘thug,’ ‘criminal’ and ‘creep’ will look like Salvation Personified  in his or her business logo white/blue shirt, tool kit in hand.

If we’d like more doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, engineers, designers, EMTs, air conditioner repair technicians, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, …. there are some things we can do to help.  The St. Louis Community College System, literally in the heart of the Ferguson situation, acknowledges some of the problems.

The St. Louis CC reports on their efforts to attract more young African American men, and lists the problems they face:

“There are numerous reasons that can be attributed to the low numbers of African-American men persisting at community colleges and attaining their educational goals. The lack of on-campus support services, low or no financial assistance, lack of transportation, legal issues, the need for childcare, under prepared for college, and most importantly the lack of positive role models are just to name a few.”  [StLCC]

On campus support services range from one on one tutoring to group learning sessions, help using informational technology, study groups, and language instruction.  These efforts aren’t cheap and shouldn’t be approached as such. Cutting public college/university budgets because of lack of state support is counter-productive if we truly want the next generation to pick up the economic baton.

Don’t get me started on the lack of public transportation in general — the rant could go for days.  However, it doesn’t do to disparage young people who live in suburban sprawl or in metropolitan areas with meager public transport for not jumping at the chance to hike miles to a bus station, then transfer to a Metro, travel more miles, and then repeat the process at the end of the school day — IF there is a bus and IF there is a Metro.  I know, those of us of a certain age walked to school, up-hill both ways, in blizzard conditions…. Spare me.

Legal Issues

Legal issues? Could this be a euphemistic way to describe police records for petty crimes, misdemeanors or class Z felonies, plaguing kids these days?   Please stare at the following chart from ChildStats.Gov for a moment.  Who, by the percentages, has a more visible rate of drug and alcohol dependency?

Drug Use ChartThis is an eye test: Whose line is the lowest on the chart? If you said “Blue” you pass. Blue, for Black, non-Hispanic 18 to 24 years of age.  Member of the Great Uninformed who fail this test are probably listening to other members of the Great Uninformed instead of the kids themselves.  If African American young men are the lowest on the chart tracking alcohol or drug dependency where does the impression they are likely to be drug dealers come from?  Try the judicial system.

‘Since blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites on drug charges, they are more likely to acquire the convictions that ultimately lead to higher rates of incarceration. Although the data in this backgrounder indicate that blacks represent about one-third of drug arrests, they constitute 46 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts.[21] Among black defendants convicted of drug offenses, 71 percent received sentences to incarceration in contrast to 63 percent of convicted white drug offenders.”  [HR]

Notice, it’s not that African Americans are more likely to DO drugs, but that it’s more likely they will be arrested and convicted than their white cohorts.  And for this, those “legal issues” will haunt a young African American in terms of housing, education, and employment.  As the old saying goes, “Justice may be color blind, but the War on Drugs isn’t.”

 Family Family Family

Child care? Here’s another topic for another day.  The U.S. has little to no real child care services when compared to other developed nations.  The role model issue offers some cause to pause.  If the media were to be believed, especially some facets of our national media, every Black child grows up in a single parent household without a father.  Not quite.

The Census Bureau’s 2013 report (pdf) shows approximately 55% of African American children in single parent homes, 31% for Hispanic children, White 21%, Asian 13%.  Read these numbers in reverse and note that 45% of African American children are growing up in household with two adults.  As in the case of the employment figures, there’s a better chance that the Great Uninformed will automatically assume the Black youngster is in the 55% category and not the 45% classification.  For further clarification, there are maps included in the Census Bureau Report which illustrate that children in Missouri are more likely to live in two-adult homes, and fewer live in single family homes than the national average. {figures 4 and 5}

Every reporter in the country has been speaking to the 67% African American population in Ferguson, Missouri — perhaps this is an outlier?  Not. So. Fast.  The Census Bureau also tells us that 68% of the 8,751 Ferguson households are defined as family homes.  Of these, some 31% have children residing there.  2,669 of these households, or 31.3%, are single parent (female) homes.  7.4% are single parent (male) homes.  Again, before jumping to the conclusion that the youngster on the TV screen marching down West Florissant Ave. is from a ‘broken’ home with a single mother — look at the actual numbers.

We almost inevitably get from the Single Mother narrative to the Absent Dad.  “These kids have no role models.”  First, it’s true that many African American men live separately from the mothers of their children — but don’t jump to the conclusion this means they are absent from their children’s lives.

“Recent data published by the Center for Disease Control reveal that African-American fathers spend more time in their children’s day-to-day lives than dads from other racial groups, defying stereotypes about black fatherhood. The Pew Research Center has found similar evidence that black dads don’t differ from white dads in any significant way, and that there isn’t the expected disparity found in so many other reports. Although black fathers are more likely to live in separate households, Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.” [HuffPo]

When we speak of role models it’s nearly always in a positive sense. “Dad” or “Mom” is the primary role model.  Is it necessarily ‘negative’ to have a parent known in the household for working two jobs to make ends meet? Or, ‘negative’ to have parents who shift child care roles in order to juggle employment schedules?  There are other ‘negatives.’ What kind of a role model is a local police officer who assumes kids sitting on the stoup are up to no good?  Would this encourage a youngster to want to be a police officer?  What kind of role model is it if a Black youngster is trailed through the department store by security or sales personnel who assume that shoplifting is the order of the day? Would this encourage a youngster to want to work in retail sales?

What kind of a role model might a teacher be who calls on the white children in the room first, and the Black students rarely if at all? Would this encourage a young person to be a teacher? What kind of a role model is a secondary school principal who illustrates the national statistics that Black young people are more likely to receive more and longer suspensions than white students? Does this encourage a young Black person to want a career as an educator?

Imagine a Black teen entering an office building, do the women clutch their purses? Do the men move back and check their wallets? Who would want to grow up and work in that office building?  Before the Great Uninformed pontificate on the roles of fathers and mothers, they might want to consider how their own actions convey ‘models’ to young people of color.

Kids Kids Kids

The problems evident in the Ferguson situation won’t be solved over-night, nor are there quick Band-Aid solutions at hand.  However, it might help if the youngsters who feel threatened in their own community were seen for what they are: Baggy pants, ear-bud inserted, caps askew, often silly teenagers –much like everyone else’s baggy pants, ear-buds likely requiring surgical removal, caps smashed down on expensive hair cuts, silly teenagers; texting constantly to see if She said He Liked Her better than Him maybe but He didn’t like Her better even if She looked at Him in the hall while He was with Her.

God love them, they will grow up, and if God has a sense of humor they’ll have at least one child just like themselves.

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