As early as the late 1980’s, William Wilson argued that widespread economic transitions had altered the socioeconomic structure of American inner cities to the detriment of African Americans. Wilson identified declines in manufacturing work and its replacement with poorly compensated service sector work as driving racial segregation and leaving African Americans jobless, poor and alienated from American society. These transitions were particularly problematic for African American men since manufacturing work was their primary gateway to middle-class employment while African American women had already focused more on service work.

Since the initial exposition of Wilson’s theory of deindustrialization, Wilson’s framework of transition, disadvantage and alienation has proven true with a vengeance for working class African American men. The decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1980’s has left African American men without their traditional gateway to the middle-class and accelerated the decline of American unions which benefited those men. As the economy transitioned from manufacturing to service jobs, African American men’s disadvantages in education have left them at a loss in competing for the high wage jobs that remain. At the same time de-industrialization was sweeping our economy, the nation waged a “War on Drugs,” largely at the expense of inner city African American men who suffered high rates of imprisonment with long mandatory sentences even for non-violent offences. These high rates of imprisonment removed African American men from the Black community and left them at a serious disadvantage in an increasingly competitive low-skilled labor market.

As their prospects for employment declined, African American men became increasingly alienated from the labor market and the family. Although the labor force participation rate has declined for all men, it has declined much more steeply for Black men so that Blacks have become the first racial or ethnic group for which the male labor force participation rate is below that of the women. As Black men’s fortunes in the labor market declined, so too did their prospects for marriage and childrearing. Steady employment remains men’s key to marriage and child-rearing and increasingly poor women have decided it was better to have children outside of marriage with the man’s only participation as the subject of child support claims which could also result in imprisonment for non-payment.

Although these deleterious transitions have had an impact across the working class, their impact has been particularly hard on African American men because of their high reliance on manufacturing jobs, their greater disadvantages in education and their much harsher treatment under our criminal justice system. In this chapter I outline the current problems for African American men in the global economy of the information age.

8 Ind. J.L. & Soc. Equality 1 (2020)