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America’s million missing black men

Charles Moore of Oakland is an inmate in the Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison.
Charles Moore of Oakland is an inmate in the Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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A study recently published in the New York Times examines the ebbing population of young black males in America. The report says street violence, HIV and incarceration have removed from society nearly 1.5 million black men between the ages of 25 and 54.

The Times also finds that, on average, there are only about 83 non-incarcerated black men for every 100 black women.

The gap is the worst in two familiar cities: Ferguson, Missouri and North Charleston, South Carolina. Their ratios are 60-100 and 75-100, respectively. Meanwhile, white communities average about 99 out of 100.

David Leonhardt is the editor of the Times’ Upshot section and helped to author the report. He tells Take Two that the gender gap exists in nearly every black community in the country:

“Almost every place where there is a really sizeable African American population has these large numbers of missing men. Los Angeles, San Bernardino County [and] Alameda County have ratios that are nearly identical.”

He explains that gender ratios among children in communities of color tend to be equal. As those children age, the disparity begins to widen. The gap plateaus around the age of 30.

Brenda Stevenson is a professor of history at UCLA. She says mass incarceration creates a vicious cycle within communities of color.

“You’re talking about pulling out a significant part of the population [during] their most productive, creative and nurturing years. These are years in which people form their own families. They’re partners, parents, political activists … When you don’t have a significant part of that population being able to do these kind of things, it has a devastating impact on the community.”

Stevenson notes that while blacks make up 6.6% of California, black males make up 29% of the state’s prison population.

Study author David Leonhardt admits that numbers may improve in the coming years, but he contends that there’s no reason to celebrate: it’s only because two leading killers of black men, homicide and HIV are decreasing in the nation.

“We’re talking about the situation not getting worse, but it’s stabilizing at a level that is extremely harmful to very large numbers of people.”

Press the play button above to hear more from The New York Times’ David Leonhardt and UCLA’s Brenda Stevenson on the impact these missing men are having on the country.

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