A collective of young Black activists who are invested in politics and advocacy released yesterday a decade-long report on Black Millennials in America, which has some appalling findings. The Black Youth Project, which described itself as “dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people,” put together the report based on survey data from the past 10 years. The organization polled white, Black, and Latino men and women to find their opinions, stances, and experiences on everything from discrimination in the workplace to how much they believe in their ability to change the legislative process through advocacy. Sadly, the answers they found are all too believable. As a whole, the study paints a picture of Black millennials as a group that is invested, engaged, and ultimately frustrated by societal limitations and lack of options.
The 75-page report finds that Black youth are limited by higher rates of discrimination, incarceration, and police harassment than their white and Latino peers, and lower rates of education, employment, and health-insurance coverage. Over the 10 years documented, the study finds that Black millennials experienced unemployment at twice the rate of white millennials and discrimination of any kind in the workplace at nearly three times the rate of their white peers. Black millennials also experienced poverty at a much higher rate than their white and Latino counterparts. In 2013, 32% of Black youth between 18 and 24 lived below the poverty line, as compared to about 17% of white and 21% of Latino youth. The report also found that Black youth have lower chances of graduating from high school, and a higher chance of still being in high school at later ages. When it comes to college enrollment, the discrepancy is even worse: A little more than one-third of Black youth are enrolled in college, as compared to more than half of white 18- and 19-year-olds. Most appalling of all, young Black men were a full seven times more likely to be in jail than young white men, and twice as likely as young Latino men. When it comes to police interaction — a topic that has been more in the public eye than ever over the past few years — the study benefits particularly from its longitudinal aspect. A survey the organization did in 2009, well before the well-publicized deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and others, found that less than half of Black youth say they trust the police, and that the majority say they or someone they know has experienced harassment or violence from law-enforcement officers. “In their everyday lives, Black youth are deeply ambivalent — if not outright cynical — about the police who patrol their communities. These attitudes are widespread among Black youth, and were present even before the national news was dominated by events like those in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston,” the report reads.
After all that, it’s almost heartbreaking to hear that young Black people are more likely to be politically involved, to vote, and to have opinions on political issues. The study finds that in the past two presidential elections, Black youth voted at a consistently higher rate than white youth, and played a large part in electing Barack Obama to office. But it also shows the impact of the increase in Voter ID laws — which require voters to present government-issued identification, and which have increasingly sprung up around the country since the Supreme Court struck down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. At the time of the decision, critics said that the invalidation of the part of the Act that requires certain states with histories of racial discrimination to get federal approval to make changes with regards to voting procedures would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters. Indeed, the study finds that although Black youth were more likely to vote than whites or Latinos, of those who didn’t vote, 17% of those said that they were unable to because they didn’t have proper ID — more than three times the number of white youth who cited ID as a reason, and twice as many as Latinos. Black voters also reported being asked for ID more frequently than whites, even in states with no ID laws. The report sums it up succinctly: "These data show that voter identification laws appear to be applied disproportionately across racial groups. Among youth, people of color — young Blacks, especially — are considerably more likely to be asked for identification in order to vote. The uneven application of these laws suggests that polling-place workers exercise a high level of discretion in requesting ID from potential voters. Unless all polling places — and all poll workers — apply voting laws in a consistent manner, the very existence of identification laws implies that young people of color are more likely than white youth to be asked to prove their identify before being allowed to vote." Perhaps this is why three-quarters of young Black people polled said that they didn't believe the government treated all groups fairly. The millennial generation — loosely defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34 — is the most diverse generation in American history. Forty-four percent of Americans born between 1982 and 2000 identify as part of a minority racial or ethnic group, and the trend is only increasing. Census projections predict that by 2060, more than half of the United States population will consist of nonwhite individuals. The minority millennials of today — the people who don't trust the police, who are being excluded from the political system, and are discouraged from education — will be the leaders of tomorrow. It may be a small comfort.