By: Margaret Simms, Marla McDaniel, William Monson, and Karina Fortuny
A large number of U.S. men of prime working age are neither gainfully employed nor pursuing education or other training, suggesting a potentially significant disconnection from mainstream economic and social life. The Urban Institute, funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, convened the Race, Place, and Poverty symposium to better understand the experiences of men who were disengaged or at high risk of disengagement from mainstream economic and social systems. The symposium explored the state of knowledge on disconnected low-income men and discussed effective strategies for improving their well-being.
The Great Recession significantly increased the number of men struggling with joblessness and under-employment. But for many low-income men, joblessness and its related struggles are chronic concerns regardless of the state of the economy. These are the men whose disconnection from mainstream economic and social structures has made it challenging for them to support themselves and their families, and to participate richly and constructively in mainstream society. This background paper was prepared for a symposium held in fall 2012 to address these issues.
The theme of the symposium was “Race, Place, and Poverty,” a title chosen because it is at the intersection of race and place that poverty and associated issues are magnified. The incidence of poverty is much higher among African Americans and Hispanics than among whites.1 As this paper outlines, this outcome is closely associated with factors that increase anyone’s likelihood of being low income: low educational attainment, lack of steady employment, a record of incarceration, and poor health. But these barriers are much higher for racial and ethnic minorities, and this stems partly from the fact that they often live in highly impoverished, socioeconomically and ethnically segregated communities that lack good schools, job opportunities, and access to health care (Harding 2009; Small and New man 2001; Wilson 1996). In addition, many of these communities have high incidences of crime and violence, along with a pattern of policing that sharply increases young men’s encounters with the criminal justice system.
The goal of the symposium was to examine the state of knowledge on disconnected low-income men and generate a conversation about strategies for more beneficial outcomes. We accomplished this by bringing together social service providers and researchers (mostly ethnographers) from across the country whose work focuses on low-income men’s experiences in five domains: education, employment, family, the criminal justice system, and health. This background paper features key themes from ethno graphic and other qualitative research, and it is supplemented by data issue briefs that describe population size, geographic location, and other socio-demographic characteristics of the men and a brief which summarizes discussion that took place at the symposium.
The topics featured are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. Our goal for this paper was to motivate conversation and establish a shared foundation grounded in current knowledge. We present the five domains in turn but discuss the overlaps where appropriate. The topics weave together, as they do in men’s lives. Separately, education, employment, family, contact with the criminal justice system, and health each have consequences for the other domains, and we highlight some of the rippling effects.