African-American Men Face Barriers to Economic Success, Report Finds

African-American men in the Pittsburgh region continue to face persistent structural barriers to employment, business development, and economic advancement, a report from the Urban Institute finds.

Funded by the Heinz Endowments, the report, Barriers & Bridges: An Action Plan for Overcoming Obstacles and Unlocking Opportunities for African American Men (67 pages, PDF), found that between 2007 and 2011 working-age African-American men with at least a high school diploma had an unemployment rate more than twice that of whites the same age (12.2 percent vs. 5.1 percent) and were far more likely to have annual earnings at or below the poverty level. The study also found that the structural barriers behind these disparities include geographic segregation and social isolation from networks that facilitate access to jobs, job training programs, capital, and other resources; accumulated disadvantages resulting from historically inadequate access to the kinds of educational and employment opportunities that lead to economic mobility; current institutional practices through which major employers draw on an established network of contractors and recruit new hires from a non-diverse talent pool; and financial institutions tending to see African-American businesses as high-risk investments. 

To dismantle these and other barriers, the study urges foundations to increase operating support for high-performing community organizations that help African-American men improve their economic status. Business, government, and the philanthropic sector should also work together, the report argues, to support networking and peer-learning opportunities for Africa-American men, increase entrepreneurs' access to business capital, develop supplier and market networks to help make African American-owned businesses more sustainable, and expand access to skills training programs.

"The question is whether there is the will and commitment among our region's government, business, and philanthropic sectors to make the changes — and take the chances — needed so that more black men can participate," said Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant. "This will require more than creating new programs. It will mean changing how business is conducted."