WASHINGTON -- Black men in Baltimore and other American cities are in the midst of a deepening crisis, according to a congressional panel that recommends education and job training as key antidotes.
"The problems confronting black men in urban America are deeply interwoven with the array of problems plaguing our cities and our nation as a whole," said Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
The committee met yesterday at the request of Sen. Terry Sanford, D-N.C., who has organized a bipartisan panel of civic leaders, elected officials and business groups dubbed the 21st Century Commission on African American Males.
The commission will hold a national conference this spring to hash out policy solutions to the problems facing urban minorities.
"There is a crisis facing young black males in America," said panelist Sam Myers Jr., a professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Maryland. "Labor force participation rates are low. Unemployment is soaring. Crime has become a way of life for many. Drug-selling seems a viable alternative to college and an MBA."
Myers and other panelists recited a dramatic litany of statistics that point to a disappearing generation.
According to panelists, a black male is twice as likely to die before age 45 as is a white male. The U.S. unemployment rate was 19 percent for black males in the fourth quarter of 1990, compared with 7.8 percent for white males. And a black male has an 18 percent lifetime probability of incarceration.
"Millions are vanishing," Gov. Douglas Wilder, D-Va., told the panel. "Few are found in jobs with a promising future. Few are found at the heads of families they have fathered. Too many are behind bars. Every day, we find more hiding behind alcohol, crack."
There is no easy answer, panelists agreed, but Myers faulted policy- makers for overcrowding the nation's jails while ignoring the root causes of crime.
He said job-training programs also have failed by carefully preparing blacks for industrial and manufacturing jobs that are no longer critical to the economy.
"It's somewhat ironic that now there is a national focus on the problems of black males, when all the warning signals have been in place at least for a decade," said Myers. "And so the question is: Is this too little too late?"
Panelist Marc Mauer, assistant director for the Sentencing Project in Washington, agreed that the government's "get tough" attitude toward crime during the last decade has backfired. The number of black men behind bars has doubled in the last decade, said Mauer.
"We have a whole set of policies that have locked up this generation of black men," said Mauer, adding that the law enforcement community has little to show for its efforts. "We had high crime rates 10 years ago, and we have high rates of crime today."
Panelists agreed that education, early intervention programs for at-risk children, and up-to-the-minute job training are a critical starting point.
Glegg Watson, an executive with Xerox Corp. in Stamford, Conn., said that corporate scholarships are heavily weighted to higher education, at the expense of elementary and secondary schools.