Half Of Ferguson’s Young African-American Men Are Missing
Michael Brown’s tragic death, violent protests including the shootings of police officers, a Justice Department investigation describing a pattern and practice of discrimination in the Ferguson police department, and the resignation of six city officials, including the police chief, have focused attention on racial divisions in this St. Louis suburb. The Justice Department investigation alleges that the lack of diversity in the Ferguson police department, only 4 of 54 commissioned officers are African American compared to 67% of the town’s population, undermines the community’s trust of law enforcement.
An important but unreported indicator of Ferguson’s dilemma is that half of young African American men are missing from the community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while there are 1,182 African American women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in Ferguson, there are only 577 African American men in this age group. In other words there are more than two young black women for each young black man in Ferguson. The problem of missing black men extends to other age groups. More than 40% of black men in both the 20 to 24 and 35 to 54 age groups in Ferguson are missing.
It is worth noting that there are approximately equal numbers of African American boys and girls, under the age of 20, in Ferguson (2,332 boys and 2,341 girls). What has happened to young African American men in Ferguson? There are several possibilities. First, the Census counts only the civilian population, and excludes individuals serving in the Armed Forces. Second, tragically, some of these young men have already died. Third, Census figures do not include individuals who are incarcerated at the time of the survey. Finally, the Census Bureau may undercount homeless men, men who are marginally attached to the community, and men who are primarily engaged in criminal behavior.
While the problem of missing African American men is especially severe in Ferguson, young black men are absent from most U.S. cities. In the neighboring cities of East St. Louis, IL and St. Louis, about 38% and 24% of African American men age 25 to 34 are absent from their communities, respectively. On average, about 18 percent of young African American men are absent from large cities. (This calculation is based on the combined population of 33 cities with the largest African American populations, home to about one quarter of African Americans in the U.S.) In contrast, outside of large cities only about 4% of young black men are absent from their communities. The challenges posed by an absence of black men in Ferguson are problems faced primarily by larger cities.
Outside of large cities the absence of young African American men is explained by gender differences in mortality rates and military service. Almost two percent of African Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 are in the active military, and about 85% are men, so military service can explain a two percent shortfall in the civilian black male population.
Vital Statistics data indicate that about 96% of African American men will survive to the age of 30 compared to 98% of women. Shorter life expectancies can explain why an additional two percent of young African American men are missing. After adjustments for gender differences in mortality rates and military service, 14% of African American men age 25 to 34 are missing from our largest cities, and 47% are missing from Ferguson.
Incarceration is the primary reason why young black men are missing from our largest cities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics about 9.4% of African American men age 25 to 34 are incarcerated, compared to 0.6% of African American women. However, an incredibly high incarceration rate would be necessary to account for all of Ferguson’s missing young black men. Ferguson’s challenge is likely the result of a combination of problems including incarceration, criminal behavior, homelessness and substance abuse.
It will be difficult for Ferguson to prosper economically as long as half of young black men are absent from the community. According to Census data 60% of households with children in Ferguson are headed by women and 48% of these female-headed households are below the poverty line.
Although the Justice Department views the racial disparity among Ferguson’s police officers as a potential cause of racial unrest in the community, the dearth of black police officers is also a consequence of the socioeconomic problems facing Ferguson’s African American community. While there have been important changes in the past few decades, law enforcement is an occupation disproportionately represented by younger men. According to the Census Bureau over 85% of police officers in the U.S. are men and only 13% are age 55 and above.
As Ferguson strives to achieve greater racial diversity in its police force, one of the first problems civic leaders will face is a shortage of young African American men from Ferguson who can fill positions in the police department. Many of the socioeconomic problems that have caused these young men to be absent from their community will also make it difficult, if not impossible, for these men to pursue a career in law enforcement.