Tea Party and the Right  
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Debunking the Big Lie Right-Wingers Use to Justify Black Poverty and Unemployment

Economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of "black culture," explain African Americans' relatively poorer economic outcomes.

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Just as people with little money hold the same attitudes about education as those with big bucks do, Jean Hardisty, the author of Marriage as a Cure for Poverty: A Bogus Formula for Women, cites a number of studies showing that “a large percentage of single low-income mothers would like to be married at some time. They seek marriages that are financially stable, with a loving, supportive husband.” Poor women have the same dreams as everyone else: they “often aspire to a romantic notion of marriage and family that features a white picket fence in the suburbs.” Low economic status leads to fewer marriages, not the other way around.

In 1998, the Fragile Families Study looked at 3,700 low-income unmarried couples in 20 U.S. cities. The authors found that nine in 10 of the couples living together wanted to tie the knot, but only 15 percent had actually done so by the end of the one-year study period.

And here’s a key finding: for every dollar that a man’s hourly wages increased, the odds that he’d get hitched by the end of the year rose by 5 percent. Men earning more than $25,000 during the year had twice the marriage rates of those making less than $25,000.

Writing up the findings for the Nation , Sharon Lerner noted that poverty “also seems to make people feel less entitled to marry.” As one father in the survey put it, marriage means “not living from check to check.” Thus, since he was still scraping bottom, he wasn’t ready for it. “There’s an identity associated with marriage that they don’t feel they can achieve,” [Princeton sociology professor Sara] McLanahan, one of the study's authors, says of her interviewees. (Ironically, romantic ideas about weddings—the limos, cakes and gowns of bridal magazines—seem to stand in the way of marriage in this context – many couples in the study said they were holding off until they could afford a lavish wedding bash.)

The Great Black Depression

Earlier this week, I wrote about the crushing  economic depression now afflicting the African American community. Those who buy into the culture of poverty mythology would no doubt explain that reality away as a manifestation of blacks' supposedly flawed work ethic. When jobs are hard to come by, only the most persistent people – those willing to acquire new skills or knock on door after door and face rejection after rejection – are going to wind up being employed.

So let's look again at the evidence. AARP did a study of working people over 45 years of age ( PDF), and found that “African Americans surveyed were more likely than the general population to be proactive about jobs and career training.”

They took steps such as training to keep skills up-to-date (30% versus 25%), attending a job fair (18% versus 7%), and looked for a new job (24% versus 17%) in the past year at rates higher than the general sample. A sizeable share also indicated that they plan to engage in these behaviors. More African Americans relative to the general population plan to take training (38% versus 33%), look for a new job (27% versus 24%), attend a job fair (26% versus 11%), use the internet for job-related activities (30% versus 23%), and start their own business (13% versus 7%).

The unemployment rate for African Americans between 45-64 years of age stands at 10.8 percent; the rate for whites of the same age is just 6.4 percent. Older black workers have the drive, and report putting in more effort to land jobs or start businesses than their white counterparts – they embrace a “culture of success” -- yet their unemployment rate remains 40 percent higher.