“By almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color,” President Obama said in 2014 when he launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help black and Latino boys. The president went on to note that compared with young white men, young minority males are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to be gainfully employed and more likely to be poor.
A new round of social science confirms the president’s observations and indicates they apply not just to young men of color but also to young men from lower-income homes generally. Indeed, what is striking about today’s trends is that poor boys, as well as Latino and African-American boys, are often doing worse than their female peers when it comes to a range of outcomes in young adulthood, from educational attainment to incarceration to employment as young adults. For instance, today, less than 40% of Latino and black college graduates are male.
In trying to account for the falling fortunes of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds, scholars, policymakers and journalists have tended to focus on factors such as poverty and racial and income segregation. These structural factors matter, to be sure, but so too does an oft-neglected factor—missing fathers. A series of new studies confirms a time-tested truth: Dads matter, and their absence from the home is a major reason why poor and minority males are floundering.