Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Decline of Marriage

Currently there is either a crisis in marriage or simply a course correction. It is no secret that the percentage of men and women in the United States who are currently married has decreased steadily and significantly from 1970 to now. While there has been a significant increase in divorce since 1970, most of the decrease in marriage rates has come from individuals not choosing to marry at all. In addition to the general overall drop decreases in marriage rates have differed based on income/assets shown below.

Figure 1: Marriage rates for men between the ages of 30-50 by income bracket from 1970 to 2010 (1)

Females have seen a similar pattern with high-income earners only experiencing a small drop in their marriage rate, while working class women have seen a drop of at least 15%.1 One question to help characterize this trend is: are marriage rates actually in trouble (i.e. they will continue to fall in the future) or are marriage rates naturally dropping from their seemingly unrealistic levels in the 1950s and 1960s and will simply stabilize at a dynamic equilibrium point in the near future?

While this question cannot be directly answered at the moment it is important to determine why marriage rates have fallen in the manner they have over the last half-century to better understand which of the above answers is more probable. In the past and present three factors have largely driven the desire to marry or not to marry: cultural, economic and psychological. How these factors have changed with time should produce sufficient and effective base to address the above question.

One reason a drop in marriage rates should not be surprising is a more liberal societal cultural shift regarding an absence of inter-gender relationships. In 1950s and 60s individuals who elected to remain single were typically thought of as weird, strange, “players” and/or inferior because they were not able to attract a spouse. In modern times such generalizations are made much less often and instead remaining single is commonly regarded as a valid lifestyle choice. This change has made individuals more free from cultural pressures to marry in fear of being passively ostracized from society.

Changing attitudes with regards to remaining single was not the only change for attitudes regarding women in general have also significantly changed. In the past there was typically an underlying understanding after a marriage that the male would have the job and earn the money (i.e. be the breadwinner) and the female would stay at home and manage the domestic affairs of the family: cleaning the house, raising the children, etc. This structure made it imperative that women find husbands that could support them for their prospects of finding employment to support themselves were limited, even with the gains made from their work during WWII reducing prevalent stereotypes that they were unable to perform certain jobs. Over time the significant and continuous increase in participation by women in the labor force has changed this “understanding”, in the eyes of some even rendered it obsolete. Therefore, for a number of women marriage was no longer the principal method in which one could find economic support.

In addition to the cultural shift in accepting women into the workforce, changes in social norms and the legal system made divorce less stigmatizing, but more difficult to execute due to increased legal complexities. These changes in the execution and structure of divorce proceedings are believed to significantly influence the desire of single individuals to not marry. Interestingly it could be argued that due to the legal and emotional complexities of divorce that for a number of individuals a divorce is more emotionally and psychologically taxing than a standard termination of an existing relationship (i.e. breakup), both in magnitude and duration.

Another element that is amplifying the negative associations of divorce is the cultural shift concerning co-habitation. In the 1950s and 1960s the chief factor that limited the amount of co-habitations was not that it was shunned by general society (although it was), but that people did not consider it a viable option in contrast to marriage. Therefore, even if someone had concerns about the negative elements associated with a potential divorce there were typically only two ways a relationship could resolve: breakup or marriage. Now co-habitation has become a legitimate alternative, which could apply greater emphasis on the negative elements of divorce. While a number of individuals do co-habitat before marriage, co-habitation is not the catalyst for marriage that some claim.

The chief disadvantage of marriage relative to co-habitation is the ease at which the latter can be ended. Both entrance into and exit from marriage have significant regulatory hurdles where as co-habitation simply involves moving some material possessions into and if necessary later out of a physical location. Entering into a marriage has some hurdles that can complicate things and one could argue that these hurdles provide a “weeding out” element where non-serious applicants will typically fall by the wayside. However, divorce is the real problem for even when a divorce is amicable it takes weeks, if not months, to fully resolve the separation.

An interesting psychological aspect of the fear of divorce is a number of individuals view divorce as almost an inevitable occurrence, that the marriage is destined to fail. It is strange that individuals would think in such a manner. How often do most people envision taking an action where the initial mindset is failure? The negative ramifications of divorce are only relevant if one views the probability of its occurrence as considerable. Perhaps such a mindset is reflective of one’s general standing in existence for high social status individuals (well-off college graduates) have not seen a significant drop in marriage rate versus those with less in their lives. Basically it can be argued that the further down the economic ladder one is the higher the probability that his/her life has had significant failure, thus the potential of a marriage is viewed as having a higher likelihood of failure versus someone who has had more success in life.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) could also prove a detriment to marriage as one of the few remaining tangible benefits acquired from marriage over co-habitation is that spouses can share health insurance meaning that one person who could not afford or be eligible for health insurance could be covered under their spouse’s policy. However, the ACA forces insurance companies to cover all individuals regardless of circumstance and allows for states or the Federal government to provide subsidies, which are much more viable to singles versus married individual, to ease costs, thereby significantly damaging the shared healthcare advantage of marriage. Whether or not this will influence marriage rates is unclear, though it is theoretically plausible that there should be little change because in modern times the acquisition of health insurance was not a significant motivation for marriage.

While there is no argument that individuals who marry have better physical and mental health outcomes than individuals who remain single, there is less certainty regarding the differences in health outcomes between married and co-habitating individuals. However, a majority of the research appears to come down on the side of marriage regarding the better health outcomes in part because marriage produces higher probabilities for quality relationships, but there does not appear to be a decisive difference between the two.2-4

There are two major rationalities for this result. First, individuals who marry recognize the strong loving bond they have with their significant other and maintaining a quality relationship is simply easier due to these positive connections. In essence these individuals gain almost a status-based ego boost from the marriage, viewing it as the “ultimate level” in relationship status. Second, the “fear” of divorce may actually be beneficial on some level as the difficulties surrounding divorce could force individuals to apply more effort and care in working through problems in the relationship improving psychological well-being versus co-habitation where escape is so easily achieved that a small problem could derail the relationship or is ignored and allowed to fester.

As mentioned above the advancement of women in the workforce has reduced some of the more questionable rationalities for marriage both culturally and economically. From an economic perspective the ability of women to support themselves financially has had a negative impact on men from a standpoint of their general marriage prospects. Women can now be more selective regarding whom they want to marry rather than focusing solely on “landing a man” because they need someone to support them.

This new selection freedom for women may have moved marriage from a quasi-necessity to a luxury. Unfortunately like most luxuries this produces an “arms race” mentality among many of the competitors (men) to demonstrate the value of a relationship. As women now have more freedom in selecting a marriage partner, males have to do more to make themselves more attractive, typically along the lines of having/earning money. Therefore, it can be argued that one of the biggest influencing factors on marriage rates is income inequality; i.e. the less money one has the less likely they are to get married because they are not an attractive candidate. There is sufficient evidence that supports the influence of income inequality as marriage rates have fallen much faster among poor and middle class individuals than among rich individuals.1,5,6

A number of conservative voices have lamented that one explanation for the drop in marriage rates is the penalties associated with marriage in the tax code. Originally the policies that have produced these penalties were actually boons to married couples, but with the cultural shift that has afforded women more workplace opportunities, these boons have had tendencies to become busts. Of all of the financial elements affecting marriage in the tax code there are two main elements that should have the greatest influence on marriage rates: joint filing, including association with welfare benefits, and the Social Security spousal benefit.

In modern times joint filing has become a poor motivator for marriage. First of all a joint filing is significantly more complicated than individual filing creating undue stress regarding potential benefits and detriments from the rate brackets and income divisions within the couple. Unfortunately most of the time a joint filing in a two-occupation household forces the married couple to pay more in taxes. Joint filing was designed around the traditional idea of a marriage where one individual (typically the male) works to support the rest of the family financially and the female works to support the family domestically, thus because the female does not get paid the rules associated with joint filing typically produced a lower tax rate.

Overall depending on the income disparity there are two possible outcomes for a married couple where both individuals have jobs: 1) if the individuals are in different taxable income brackets the one in the higher bracket will typically pay less and the one in the lower bracket will typically pay more due to income averaging; 2) if the individuals are in the same taxable income bracket both typically pay more. The possibility for greater payment occurs because while income is summed, the boundaries defining the various tax brackets, after the first two brackets (10% and 15%), are not proportionally maintained versus their single boundary counterparts. For example in a tax filing for a single individual the boundaries defining a 25% rate are $36,901 to $89,350 whereas in a joint filing the boundaries are $73,801 to $148,850, note how $29,850 dollars has been removed from the upper boundary.

Based on the above rules while there may be a small benefit to certain individuals who marry someone below their income brackets, in practice only a minority of marriages involve crossing income brackets to the point where this element is relevant; therefore, a majority of individuals who get married will suffer increased taxes. In fact the individuals with the highest probability of receiving a tax benefit from joint filing are those who need it the least, the rich. However, the most problematic element of direct tax bracket assignment of joint filing affects middle class marriage because those individuals have overall less money to lose than rich individuals when suffering the penalty.

The direct income summation tax penalty can influence the marriage potential of all parties; however, this summation has a greater indirect negative influence on the poor because of its association with the welfare system. Understandably the welfare system has an income ceiling one must be below in order to claim benefits, but when two welfare recipients near this ceiling marry the income summation disqualifies both from receiving further benefits. Therefore, this structure of how one qualifies for welfare benefits when married produces another economic obstacle to motivating poorer individuals to marry versus co-habitation.

The spousal benefit in Social Security is the second problem in the economics of the modern marriage. The original design envisioned a traditional marriage where the individual with the job (typically the male) who paid into Social Security would receive standard benefits associated with that payment whereas the individual without the job (typically the female) would receive a benefit approximately one-half the size based on marriage. Overall this “traditional couple design” would result in a retirement benefit of approximately 150% the benefit of a single individual. The purpose of the design was to act as insurance to protect the non-working spouse against the loss of the worker’s wage. Note that this benefit can apply to divorced women who were married for a certain period of time.

However, once again the design was meant for a single worker marriage. Working wives pay full Social Security payroll taxes, but the benefits derived from these payments compete with this spousal benefit, i.e. they only get to claim the one of higher value. Since most males make more money than their wives and typically work longer (although this latter aspect may be changing) the spousal benefit will frequently be larger. Therefore, these working wives collect the same Social Security benefit they would have received had they not worked at all, thus all of the payroll taxes paid provide no future benefit instead it is simply lost income to the government. Overall while there is some loss of funds due to the lack of benefit from the payroll tax for the most part the detriment is marginal because working spouses still significantly benefit over non-working spouses due to the wages earned from their employment.

One simple way of dealing with this problem is eliminating the spousal benefit, but taking such action would leave most women worse off because the overall benefit from their payroll tax benefit is less than the spousal benefit; women who function in the traditional homemaker role in marriage would be hurt even more. However, some would argue that “traditional” marriages have become rare due to both the increased number of working women and the decreased number of marriages, thus any detriment to this element is marginal. Another point of contention is any change to the spousal benefit must have a phase-out period because of individuals who still rely on it. Overall between the two, modernization of joint filing to support middle class individuals should take precedence over changing the spousal benefit.

Another economic element that could influence marriage that has not garnered much attention is income stability or volatility. While somewhat crude, marriage can be thought of as an investment and anyone with any business acumen will agree that uncertainty is the most dangerous element in investing. High rates of income volatility produce significant levels of uncertainty regarding the prospects for financial stability in a high consumption commitment investment like marriage. Some research has identified that rising income volatility could explain a significant portion (one-third) of the decline in marriage.7

The third element that influences marriage rates is the interpretation of the inter-gender relationship along with how it begins and evolves. In the 1950s most courtships proceeded similarly starting with the male asking the female out on a first date; after numerous additional dates some couples engaged in their first act of sexual intercourse. If couples did engage in sexual intercourse it was rarely talked about, especially to parents. Finally after a stable and lengthy period of time together couples identified whether or not they wanted to get married.

Modern times has developed a more “hook-up” mentality where individuals who are not even in a formal relationship or even on a date will get together for sexual intercourse and then never significantly interact with each other again. Some conservative groups have claimed that greater access to pornography has reduced marriage rates, but to make this argument one would have to demonstrate that a significant motivator for marriage was the consistent ability to have sexual intercourse where this access was not otherwise available. This argument is defeated by the fact that sexual intercourse between non-married individuals has become rather commonplace due to the change in how people view relationships and is more easily engaged in than the longer courtship period associated with marriage.

Unfortunately for pro-marriage proponents it appears difficult to reverse the more lax attitudes of modern youth regarding sex and love. Some would argue that while when these individuals are younger this attitude may complicate creating positive future romantic relationships, the increased sexual freedom produces better overall individuals when they do decide to get married. Whether or not this point is accurate remains unknown, but appears to be a reach due to the existing divorce rate.

Overall of the three elements that heavily influence marriage rates, both psychological attitudes towards sex and love and most cultural elements appear too difficult to change. The casual attitudes towards sex are too ubiquitous whereas reverting the cultural gains made by women would be immoral and eliminating the acceptance of co-habitation appears irrational as well as incredibly improbable. Therefore, the chief element that remains available for significant positive action to increase marriage rates is economic influence as well as some more minor cultural elements.

One of the more bold and potentially effective ways to produce a better economic environment to improve marriage rates would be to neutralize the negative influence of income inequality and volatility through passing a guaranteed basic income (GBI). A GBI would make marriage more attractive to individuals by producing a decrease in economic volatility due to a constant stream of income that can be used to ensure acquisition of basic needs even in the face of hard economic times. In addition a GBI could lessen the negative impact of a divorce if the marriage does not work out reducing the stress associated with uncertain finances in the face of a potential divorce.

While a GBI would be a sweeping strategy for improving marriage rates, it is understandable that the magnitude of such a strategy would face strict opposition from powerful interests. Another strategy to improve marriage prospects would be to change how a married couples files jointly adding an additional filing option that would reduce the negative aspects of a joint filing in a two-income marriage, especially for middle class filers, yet allow traditional marriages to maintain their tax advantage.

From a psychological standpoint pro-marriage individuals or groups should focus on the positive elements of marriage over co-habitation like improved health outcomes and increased relationship stability. Also effort needs to be applied to neutralize the general negative malaise that has allowed divorce to govern the conversation of marriage outcome by attacking the negative psychology that entertains divorce as the more probable event to end a marriage. Finally one could simplify the divorce proceeding in general, which would reduce the amount of resources that individuals have to devote to terminating marriages that are not salvageable thereby reducing the level of fear associated with divorce. Divorce simplification could draw criticism from some parties who worry that too much simplification will result in an increase in divorces, not a genuine means to improve livelihood, but as a crutch or escape valve when a marriage gets a little rocky.

Overall based on how the three governing factors that influence marriage rates have changed it is difficult to assume that the recent change in marriage rates is simply a “course-correction”. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that marriage rates are further threatened by not addressing the more pressing economic factors that produce obstacles to marriage. In addition it is important for society to focus on the positive elements associated with marriage like the health and stability benefits versus the negative ones like the probability of divorce. If these economic and psychological factors are not addressed then it stands to reason that marriage rates will continue to drop among non-rich individuals eventually characterizing marriage as an event that occurs more for the wealthy than non-wealthy.


1. Greenstone, M, and Looney, A. “The marriage gap: the impact of economic and technological change on marriage rates.” Brookings Institution. 2012.

2. Robles, T, et Al. “Marital quality and health: A meta-analytic review.” Psychological bulletin. 2014. 140(1):140.

3. Thoits, P. “Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 2011. 52(2):145-161.

4. Musick, K, and Bumpass, L. “Re-Examining the Case for Marriage: Union Formation and Changes in Well-Being.” Journal of Marriage and Family. 2011.

5. Schaller, J. “For richer, if not for poorer? Marriage and divorce over the business cycle.” J. Popul. Econ. 2013. 26:1007-1033.

6. Martin, S, Astone, N-M, Peters, E. “Fewer marriages, more divergence: marriage projections for millennials to age 40.” The Urban Institute. 2014.

7. Santos, C, and Weis, D. “Why not settle down already? A quantitative analysis of the delay in marriage.” 2012.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Outside Perspectives on Black Leadership

While one can raise concerns about numerous issues regarding the perception of the black community in the United States in general, the chief product of this concern stems from a failure of leadership within it. This concern regarding the quality of black leadership does not appear exclusive to one outside the black community for numerous black individuals believe there is a dearth of leadership. For example various surveys of the black community have produced two significant and troubling results: 1) a large number (30-40%) of those polled do not believe anyone of notoriety or power fights for their interests; 2) the most common “leaders” are those with a sufficient level of national notoriety, but limited political power or recent accomplishment like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. This accomplishment deficit may be the chief reason why most blacks do not feel empowered or effectively represented by their current leadership. Unfortunately despite these feelings little is done to address the issue of poor leadership.

The problems that plague the black community can be categorized two ways: intraracial (can be solved exclusively through action by the black community) or interracial (requires cooperation between multiple parties on a public stage, mostly likely political, to produce an effective solution).

From the outside looking in the most important intraracial problems appear to be:

- Lack of stable families as a larger number of black children are raised in single parent households, typically by a mother, than any other race/ethnicity; it must be noted that one point individuals frequently fail to consider is that grandmothers are commonly involved in childrearing as well in these situations so the mothers are not entirely alone. However, there still remains the lack of a positive male figure in the lives of many more black children than other races.

- An artificial accomplishment ceiling that is created among members of the black population due to a limited focus on education. The lack of focus on education produces an inherent ceiling on what an average black individual is able to achieve thereby reducing the ability of black individuals to acquire wealth and influence as well as reducing the probability for happiness and overall fulfillment with life possibly increasing the probability of a nihilistic attitude and/or behavior.

- Lack of financial knowledge and planning. One of the reasons that black individuals have trouble building wealth is that they have less knowledge about how to strategically invest money along with creating and adhering to a budget. A secondary issue in this problem is the concern that without significant knowledge about financial discipline there is a higher probability than normal of over-consumption. Unfortunately the most public rich black figures, entertainers especially musicians, encourage this over-consumptive behavior through flaunting high value, yet frivolous objects like jewelry.

From the outside looking in the most important interracial problems appear to be:

- The disproportionate level of poverty that afflicts the black community versus all other races and ethnicities. While some Republicans and Libertarians like to blame the government for incentivizing blacks not to work due to welfare and other elements of the “Great Society”, this belief is false. The advancement of poverty in the black community is a more complicated issue than “Government motivated laziness” which has almost nothing to do with the reality at all and ironically is simply a lazy excuse to “hand wave” the problem.

- The relationship with the criminal justice system commonly places a disproportional amount of blacks behind bars. However, a vast majority of these incarcerations are legitimate defeating the idea that the criminal justice system is generally racist. Overall there is a difficult relationship between the law and the black community partially based on history and partially based on a lack of psychological evolution by both parties.

- Social reclusiveness is a general problem for members of the black community tend to largely prefer interacting with only each other. While the preference for interacting with a member of one’s own racial/ethnic community is generally universal, the lack of political and influential power possessed by the black community demands more assertive interaction with other races to advance solutions to interracial problems that afflict their communities.

Why does black leadership fail to drive the positive advancement of solutions to the above problems affecting their community? There are three immediate rationalities: 1) Leadership actually tries to solve problems, but are not able to do so due to presently insurmountable obstacles; 2) Leadership wants to try to solve problems, but are aware of insurmountable obstacles so they do not even try until conditions become more favorable; 3) Leadership wants to solve existing problems, but does not want to attempt to solve problems because they could fail and failure would result in lost confidence by the black community in their leadership resulting in lost influence and power; therefore, they find it easier to blame other parties for the problems in an attempt to maintain their influence.

While one likes to believe that the first option is the correct one, if it is then black leadership has done a very poor job of challenging those obstacles and demonstrating that effort to the general public, including their own communities. For example the best way to solve a problem when facing obstacles is to produce a very specific solution pathway that demonstrates why those obstacles should be eliminated. Typically this is done through demonstrating that applying the hypothesized solution will be in the interest of the majority and foster a stronger and more efficient community. Major sources of black leadership do not commonly produce these types of solutions, whether it is spoken or written. This lack of preparation and specificity implies ignorance, laziness and/or a non-genuine effort to solve problems, none of which are attractive in a leader.

The second option is not desirable for individuals in leadership positions that refuse to undertake the challenge of solving problems, or even produce the necessary preparation and strategies, should not be in a leadership position. Waiting is only a valid strategy when influencing factors on a given problem are dynamic, which could make it difficult to determine how one should attack the problem. A vast majority of individuals, regardless of race, would argue that most of problems in the black community have been relatively static, thus all relevant elements affecting the problem are generally known.

Unfortunately it appears that the third option is most likely correct, current black leadership is not really interested in and/or able to formulate strategies to solve problems. Instead these individuals are charismatic rabble-rousers that are able to effectively communicate their outrage regarding the standing of black people in society and the continuation of these problems, but because they have no interest in actually fighting for solutions, the publicity gained from their outrage serves no purpose. Their behavior seems akin to that of Homer Simpson’s slogan when running for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner: “Can’t someone else do it?”.

A similar analogy for this situation is seen in most pharmaceutical companies and their lack of interest in producing new antibiotics. It is difficult to make an antibiotic profitable because while it costs a large amount of money, its application cures a condition, thus typically only a singe dose is taken per infection outbreak. Pharmaceutical companies are more interested in producing drugs that manage, but not cure, chronic conditions so numerous prescriptions need to be filled over the course of a patient’s lifetime, thus producing billions of dollars for the company over decades of use. This principle also appears to be at work by current black leaders in that they are not interested in solving problems in the black community, but they frequently remind individuals that those problems still exist demonstrating that “they care”.

Some would argue that this analogy is not appropriate, that black leaders legitimately fight for their communities. Justification for this position would in part involve the numerous documents that have been produced that supposedly provide a solution. However, the problem with this argument is that most of these solutions lack the necessary specific details in their application to be viewed as serious attempts. Most of these documents do a good job of highlight why the problem is a problem, but the solution is often limited to “make it illegal” or “fix it” lacking real details or commitment by leadership to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. Similar behavior is seen on the bevy of cable news/opinion shows.

Above it was suggested that a possible explanation for the lack of fight by black leaders on black issues is that the fear of failure exceeds the reality of the status quo. So why is failure worse than not even attempting to fight? One of the major reasons may be psychological. Unfortunately the black community places a significant level of dependence on racism as an excuse for its failures. Note that anyone who suggests that racism no longer exists is a fool; however, while it is the 21st century many in the black community act as if general Jim Crow laws are still active and those laws are what holds the black community back from achieving parity with other races.

Basically whenever something does not go the way of a black person a common rationality is racism is to blame for the failure, nothing else. This belief could provide motive for black leaders to not assertively move forward in attempting to achieve solutions for if they fail then they must recognize their own shortcomings. However, by not moving forward they can continue to cite racism as the scapegoat for the lack of progress and maintain their power and the benefits that come with that power.

Interestingly this lack of assertiveness is perplexing because while the fear of losing their power as leaders of the black community in light of failure is understandable, it is not a viable fear in the current practical reality. The reason any fear is unreasonable is directly tied to another problem in the black community, the lack of young leaders. Most of these “public” black leaders have few individuals legitimately vying for their positions, especially young “up and comers” so there appears to be little consequence associated with failure.

Therefore, without the validity of this fear it can be reasoned that the current black leadership either does not have the fortitude to actually advance solutions to existing black problems or does not have the intellect/creativeness to produce the solutions. For the black population to address this issue they must focus on producing new leaders to challenge the “old guard” who refuse or are unable to further advance the positive evolution of black society. Unfortunately the development of black leaders seems constrained by three major problems.

The first problem is economic abandonment, not necessarily by society, but within the black community itself. While the black community likes to put on the air that it is one big unified family, an almost “us against the world” type mentality economic abandonment seems rather common. One of the most pressing problems in the black community is the disproportionate level of poverty afflicting black individuals compared to other races and ethnicities. However, there is somewhat of a divide between a number of middle-class blacks and poor blacks and definitely a divide between rich blacks and poor blacks. For most non-poor blacks there almost appears a fear that after “clawing” their way to wealth that interacting with the poor will somehow pull them back down into that environment. Thus, an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” apathy develops towards the poverty problems of their less wealthy brethren.

Whether or not this above reasoning is accurate, in actual practice very few rich black individuals take the time to fight for those with less money. Once in a while there will be some media coverage of a donation that entertainer x gives to a local charity, but unless there is a camera around and a good reason there is little consistent interaction between rich and poor blacks. Of course this behavior is common to all races and ethnicities, but with the poverty problems and “brother/sister” perceptions that the black community exudes the lack of interaction among black people on economic grounds seems morally worse.

This lack of interaction is problematic because these rich individuals have significantly more power and influence than their poor counterparts on the national stage and can produce much higher success probabilities when advancing potential solutions to the problems afflicting the general black community. Also most rich people, regardless of race, have a lot of free time because either their wealth creates a vast majority of their future wealth (through stocks and other investments), so they do not have to work at all or their occupation is one of “short time high value” where there is significant downtime within their job structure (i.e. an entertainer that works on a movie for three months and then can choose to not have another television or movie engagement for three to seven months).

Individuals with significant influence born from wealth who are typically charismatic with large periods of free time can produce conditions that would increase the probability of applying practical solutions to certain problems. However, to produce change one must be willing to get down in the trenches and work through problems and their possible solutions on a consistent level outside of the glam and flash. Members of professional sports teams appear to frequently attempt to conduct positive charitable work, but as a group this commitment is rather scattershot with a minority applying most of the effort. Sadly few wealthy blacks are actually willing to step into those trenches to help deal with the artery wounds, like poverty, in the black community beyond a very public single-application only bandage.

The second problem for producing leaders ties back into the issue of racism-victimization and its effect on psychological development in the black community. From an outside perspective the more vocal elements of the black community appear to value “street credibility” over intelligence. In fact intelligent blacks are frequently shunned in black society commonly labeled as “not black enough” as if there is some form of racial ceiling on black intelligence.

The sad state of affairs is that if racism is truly the main element behind black failure in society then intelligent blacks are critical pieces to overcoming this racism. These individuals have a higher probability of producing the credibility and wealth to start businesses or develop strategies that can provide advancement to qualified individuals producing more opportunities for black individuals in effort to neutralize racism. However, the inherent aversion towards intelligent blacks in the black community, possibly because they associate with white individuals, ostracizes these individuals making their future contributions to black society less probable. The irony could be that a form of bias may be the biggest problem affecting the black community, but it is not racism towards blacks by other races, but their own bias towards those blacks with intelligence.

This negative view is somewhat perplexing, but not without rationality. Some blacks still have the racist belief that working with white people or even among white people is somehow a betrayal of their fellow blacks, which is obviously a shortsighted and ridiculous way of thinking. Also the idea that black people can accomplish anything on a national scale without working with other races is irrational because blacks only make up approximately 12-13% of the U.S. population. Little can be done in a democracy with only 12-13% of the voting power. For example Barrack Obama was not elected President of the United States on the exclusive strength of the black vote.

However, belief in this negative association may be catalyzed by the aforementioned behavior by rich black individuals. The general apathy of rich blacks towards the black community may be seen as a betrayal born from their association with rich non-black individuals. Unfortunately this characterization is not accurate or appropriate; any cultural abandonment is the fault of the rich black individual not the new environment in which he/she chooses to live.

The biggest loss from alienating intelligent black men and women is that such behavior increases the probability of damaging the bond between those individuals and the community. If this bond is damaged it reduces the probability that these individuals will become leaders and fight for the community instead of simply producing personal success and then withdrawing from public advocacy. Recall from above that getting into the trenches is what produces change, not showing up for a trendy protest march once a year.

Losing this bond to the black community in general also reduces the probability that black leaders have a connection to both the small-scale and large-scale problems of their brethren. Some significant elements of this lost connection are already seen in modern black leadership for while one can suggest that a leader like Al Sharpton cares about economically poorer blacks, he is not poor himself thus does not really understand the daily realities for a poor black person because he does not experience them. A similar analogy can be made for a football sportscaster that has never played football for while intricate study can produce meaningful analytical knowledge of football the lack of actual experience leaves certain holes in that knowledge born from a lack of understanding specific nuances of the game. Additionally one cannot suggest understanding based on one being poor in the 70s, but not now, for being poor in 2010s is sufficiently different physically and psychologically.

Another potential sub-problem encapsulated by both the first and second problems is that under the current version of capitalism practiced in the United States there is significant divergence between the priorities of the rich and the poor, i.e. policies that help the poor limit the amount of money that can be made by the rich. Therefore, a strong social bond will increase the probability that rich blacks sacrifice their maximum wealth potential for the interests of their fellow poorer blacks. Whether or not the current national black leadership is willing to make this sacrifice is unclear.

The third problem in developing leaders is the negative relationship that blacks have with the criminal justice system. It is difficult to cultivate quality leaders when a significant portion of a demographic is incarcerated. Some are quick to use a disproportional incarceration rate to suggest that the criminal justice system is racist. However, this accusation is not founded on solid logic, which has been previously discussed on this blog. The reality is that both parties have marred the relationship, but in order for the relationship to improve one side must take the first meaningful and honest action.

This first step to resolve this problem is to develop a better relationship, so what limits the ability and motivation of the police to take the first step in improving the relationship with the black community? Unfortunately a legitimate rationality is safety. Regardless of how one wants to view the relationship between the black community and the criminal justice system the fact remains that a disproportionate amount of legitimate crime is committed by blacks, especially violent crime. Combine this reality with the general negative view that the black community has of police and it is reasonable to assume that a reduction of vigilance will increase the probability of bodily harm to police officers.

What limits the ability and motivation of the black community to take the first step in improving the relationship with the police? Unfortunately the answer appears to simply be distrust and pride. The outward impression generally expressed by the black community is that from cradle to grave individuals are instructed to not respect the police, not trust the police and not assist the police in their investigations. With this mindset one should not be surprised that the police are inherently wary and quicker to utilize violence, whether justified or not, against black suspects.

What stops black individuals from simply working with and respecting the police? Are they concerned that by respecting the police they make themselves somehow more of a target for “trumped up” or false criminal charges? That rationality makes little sense for cooperating with and respecting the police is not equivalent to rolling over and abandoning one’s rights or expectations for fair treatment. In fact it stands to reason that a positive relationship will improve the probability of not having false charges levied against one versus an antagonistic relationship.

One thing the black community needs to accept is that some of its members commit crimes. As mentioned earlier for a number of blacks, and some non-blacks, there seems to be this idea that the criminal justice system is grossly racist and a significant percentage of the blacks in jail are not guilty of the crimes they were convicted for, a belief that is not correct. Almost all police departments and the associated court systems for their jurisdictions are not racist.

Once this reality is accepted predominant black communities can create community action committees to work with police to ensure fair and equitable treatment for black suspects increasing the probability that those who are guilty receive appropriate sentences and those who are not guilty are not inappropriately convicted. These community action committees would also be another environment to cultivate black leadership for members would have to interact with both the black community and law enforcement acting as a unifying force to produce cooperation as well as appropriate and just action by both parties.

Furthermore an element that the black population must accept about the criminal justice system is that it still functions on evidence and logic. There are a number of situations where a non-black individual is involved in a potential criminal altercation with a black individual and a number of individuals in the black community expect a conviction and if one does not occur a racial conspiracy is viewed as the only valid reason for that failure. What must be realized is that there are times where insufficient evidence exists to produce a conviction and the rules of law must be followed regardless of what one emotionally wants.

One of the greatest elements that increases animosity between non-blacks and blacks regarding the criminal justice system is that the magnitude of public response by the black community to crimes committed against blacks appears to be dependent on the race of the assailant. For example black assailants commit the vast majority of violent crime against blacks. However, these criminal actions do not produce the types of wide-scale public protests by the black community that accompany violent action against blacks by non-black assailants, especially when the incident is a police shooting. Instead the black community tends to suggest that intraracial (black criminal black assailant) violence is dealt with through small low publicity events and church-based small group discussions.

Unfortunately this strategy has produced a significant drawback; the perception that the lack of black publicity attributed to protesting intraracial crime characterizes the black community as insincere with regards to their ideology of “black lives matter”. This behavior leads a non-black individual to believe that for black individuals black lives only matter when non-blacks do the killing. Now one could protest the accuracy of this belief, but understand that perception is what matters here. At the moment the black community needs to amply the publicity of their outrage regarding all violent crime against blacks to truly live up to the creed “black lives matter.”

Note that in the media back and forth on this issue the term “black-on-black” crime is commonly utilized and is commonly attacked. The problem with the black community and its allies rejecting the idea of “black-on-black” crime is that the black community typically initiates the discussion of race as an element to crime when they engage in these large demonstrations protesting the death of a black individual at the hands of a non-black individual. While some could argue that the motivations of these protests originate because the assailant is a police officer, thus assigning the negative reaction to the abandonment by that officer of his/her duty; one must ask the question: would these protests be of similar size and intensity if an Asian or black officer committed the shooting over a white officer? While sad, it is hard to believe the answer would be yes. Overall it is logistically peculiar to suggest that “black-on-black” crime does not exist as the term is simply used to categorize criminal activity when the assailant is black as well as the victim just like “white-on-white” crime categorizes criminal activity when the assailant is white as well as the victim.

A lesser problem facing the black community when developing leaders is that no major national individual or organization seems to be interested in doing a lot of legwork to develop those leaders. The philosophy appears to be: hope that quality leaders “magically” evolve on a local level then these local leaders move on to the national stage, driven by their own pride and ambition, and produce a wealth of new strategies to solve problems in the black community. This belief is almost laughable because without any support from the national leadership it is almost impossible to expect local leaders to become national leaders. There are a few black centric leadership conferences like the Whitney M. Young Jr. Urban Leadership Development Conference or the National Black MBA Association, but those cater more to individuals already in some form of leadership position.

There seems to be a lack of focus on developing young leaders like those only in their teens without any professional experience or ties. This strategy is troublesome because it limits the ability to develop leaders by relying on early self-determination to produce the candidate pool, which for all races and ethnicities is not as large as one would hope. If this mindset is correct then the good news is that such a situation is easily correctable. For example an organization like the NAACP could establish an independently managed non-profit organization that could fund annual leadership conferences for high-school students (14-18), including travel vouchers for attendees, in a variety of states. These new conferences could inspire new confidence in aspiring leaders in addition to giving them a place to refine their skills.

As noted above the loss of solution potential is not the only concern with the leadership development strategy in the black community. The loss of future leaders also hurts the community because there is no one to replace leaders that are unable to produce breakthroughs or even try to produce breakthroughs; this lack of a viable replacement pool is one of the major reasons why leaders from the 60s and 70s are still wielding a large portion of black political power in the 00s and 10s.

One of the most important elements of leadership in the black community is marshalling enough political power to produce positive solutions to existing relevant problems. However, available political power appears in short supply leading the black community to frequently lament being treated as political pawns. Black individuals generally seem to believe that the Democratic Party neglects their value where as on a general policy level voting for the Republican Party is self-sabotage. Despite some past dreams the idea that blacks could form a viable third party is instantly defeated due to the lack of demographic power. Faced with these conditions how can the black community exert political power?

This question is a difficult one in a democracy for any group with a significant minority. One way to produce more efficient political power is to frame solutions in the context of how they help society, not how they specifically help the black community. Sadly the reality of debate will preclude the ability to argue for certain solutions from a black perspective. There may be too many individuals who when hearing the framing of a solution from the black perspective will simply think, “black people are complaining again” and ignore the remainder of the solution. Therefore, even if the solution is ideal for a vast majority of the population, framing will affect how many individuals not already aligned with addressing the problem will hear the solution and thus be convinced.

Another, potentially risky strategy, is that the black community could take action to demonstrate their value to the Democratic Party by “sitting out” an election cycle. For example in a non-Presidential election cycle the black community can place the bulk of its voting power behind a third party candidate that innately supports its solutions. Understandably in all national elections along with a number of local and state elections this candidate will lose, remember the lack of voting power.

However, in a number of races without the support of black voters various Democrat candidates that could have won will also lose. This method utilizes the idea that sometimes one has to fail in a battle to win a war for the winners of these elections will more than likely not support positive solutions to black problems, but the extent of black voting importance will be demonstrated. The above strategy is risky because it may damage trust between the black community and other members of the Democratic Party. Other members may view such tactics as unnecessary strong-arming producing significant damage for little reward.

Outside of political power what are other solutions that the black community could apply with strong leadership to solve the above major problems affecting them?


Black poverty is a complex issue that is influenced by numerous elements. A significant element of poverty can be attributed to racism, but the most influencing aspect is not current racism, but past racism. Racism in the past significantly hampered the ability of black families to generate intergenerational wealth. Most rich individuals, regardless of race, do not produce most of their wealth within their own lifetime; note that most who did largely relied on significant over-evaluated Internet companies or irrelevant consumer products, but instead the wealth was built starting with a great grandfather who passed down some of that wealth and opportunity to the grandfather who built on it and passed it down to his children, etc.

For blacks, even after the passage of various civil rights laws in the 1960s, acquiring a high enough paid job to produce intergenerational wealth was difficult. In general less wealth means less opportunity, thus reducing the ability to produce wealth, which is why most people that generate large amounts of wealth over a short period of time require non-traditional avenues like a hot, yet more than likely socially unimportant Internet or consumption product. With less ability to produce intergenerational wealth, the black community has had a more difficult time producing overall wealth, outside of entertainment occupations (actor, singer, professional athlete).

As tempting as it may be to some to simply say racism, it is not solely to blame for this situation. Black alienation of intelligence has also played a significant role in the larger poverty rates, especially as mechanization and outsourcing eliminates lower skill set jobs and competition for those jobs increase due to changing ethnic demographics. Black education and growth opportunities have also been negatively affected by the lack of cohesive family structure. However, contrary to the beliefs of some a new large wellspring of marriages and stable families will not produce significant positive movement in black economic opportunities.

A popular talking point in both political parties has suggested that the unemployment and underemployment problem in the U.S., regardless of race, can be eliminated solely though education. This idea is laughable for education by itself merely makes one a potentially more attractive applicant, but does not directly create new jobs. The simple fact is that with technology and outsourcing the total number of well-paying jobs ($45,000+) are falling out of favor replaced by $20,000-$30,000/year service jobs. The best paying jobs are difficult to acquire because they are almost reserved for individuals of privilege that have the right connections, specific education, and resources. Noting this point of reality is not to say that good jobs do not exist, but to combat the simple-minded idea that if only members of the black community get educated and married they will be greeted by a multitude of new jobs.

Overall the black community should be looking first for an economic solution to poverty, not a “race” solution because the poor are severely disadvantaged in the U.S. regardless of race or ethnicity. One of the best means for blacks to produce positive economic opportunities appears to be fighting for a guaranteed basic income. A guaranteed basic income will mitigate some of the disadvantages associated with the lack of intergenerational wealth acquisition and increase the probability for establishing new businesses that could produce new job opportunities to make expanding education financially meaningful. However, when has any black leader ever even mentioned the value of a guaranteed basic income?

Societal reclusiveness:

This solution is rather easy; the black community simply must accept the fact that it is in their best interest to work with other races and ethnicities. They need to get over the idea that interacting with other races, especially whites, in a political or economic way is “selling out”. The question is why doesn’t the NAACP, Urban League, and/or National Action Network partner with organizations like AFL-CIO or the RAND Corporation to improve their chances of producing high-quality solutions and getting those solutions implemented? Do these institutions believe that such an alliance will cost them credibility in the black community? If so, why not be assertive and through selection of an appropriate alliance dispel the “sell out” myth?

Relationship with the Criminal Justice System:

Based on the above analysis regarding the risks of engagement, the black community needs to take the first step to mending the rift between police and their community by accepting the reality that the core of the justice system is not racist; it may have some racist officers, but the system as a whole is not racist. Characterizing the police in general as racist due to a very small percentage of racist officers is akin to and as equally foolish as those who characterize blacks as nothing but criminals because a small percentage of blacks break the law. Blacks do not like being stereotyped as criminals, so why are so many willing to paint the police with a similar stereotyping brush?

The biggest issue between the two sides appears to be trust, thus as mentioned above the formation of small organizations to act as a liaison and work with police should significantly increase the level of communication and thereby trust between police and black communities. This interaction would help to reassure blacks that their rights were protected by what could be interpreted in their community as a less corruptible “checks and balances” system. This organization could also act as a go-between for black individuals who want to report criminal behavior, but may be apprehensive to talk directly with the police. Note that the liaison structure should not be a single person, but an actual organization with multiple individuals who have legitimate relationships with members of the police department.

The lack of positive male and female influence in the black family –

Of all the concerns facing the black community this one appears to be the one that black individuals are most aware of and want to fix. Certainly one cannot cite a lack of trying to resolve this problem. However, how to ensure positive influence from both sexes remains unclear otherwise such a problem would have already been solved. One obstacle could be economic in that without jobs black men are not confident that they can be good parents or mentors (i.e. the thought process may be that what kid wants to look up someone who does not have a job). Another obstacle may be emotional arrogance where black men do not feel any inherent responsibility for caring for children. A third obstacle could be the lack of a father figure in their own lives when growing up, which limits the ability and/or knowledge possessed by these men to transmit to children as fathers. Basically they do not know how to be fathers, thus they do not bother to try.

If these above obstacles are genuine then one helpful strategy would be to expand the level of adult mentoring. Instead of simply bypassing adults to mentor children directly, a more effective strategy could involve mentoring adults that lack sufficient confidence or skills to be quality mentors and/or parents. Pride can be a stubborn thing, thus there are times when one simply should ask if a person would like assistance rather than waiting for that person to ask. Another strategy could be for famous black individuals with stable families to occasionally preach the value of families when they hold autograph sessions or have other interactions with the public instead of passing that buck to the church.

General negative attitudes black youth have towards education –

One of the chief failures of the current black leadership is the lack of publicity associated with black intelligence. This failure largely entails the lack of emphasis on the positive elements of education and intelligence. Basically most black youths receive the standard messages that it is important to do well in school, that being smart is cool, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, etc. However, the generalities of these messages limit their usefulness, especially when intelligence has been passively associated with “selling out” and “not being black enough”. Therefore, black leadership needs to apply faces to the message of education being important.

An example of this failure can be applied to be emergence of Neil degrasse Tyson. Mr. degrasse Tyson did not become a popular figure in science due to initial popularity and respect in the black community that was later noticed by non-black communities. Instead Mr. degrasse Tyson become popular in non-black communities, most notably white, and appears to still lack significant popularity in the black community. Despite individuals like Mr. degrasse Tyson being valuable icons of intelligence that later produces significant success, black leadership groups like the NAACP do not appear interested in exemplifying this reality in effort to dispel the idea that blacks cannot be smart or smart blacks only sell out.

In addition to the above strategy, leadership needs to focus on invoking pride in black youth to do their best to achieve success in society, in school, in athletics, etc. not just one single aspect. For example when do black youths ever see innovative science projects or poetry crafted by other black youths? Also there needs to be more effort applied to demonstrating the end result of education. Basically young students, regardless of race, need to know that learning “subject matter x” is valuable in the career they want to pursue. Having this knowledge will increase the level of interest and motivation for education.

In the end while there are significant problems, both intraracial and interracial in the black community, an important step to solving these problems is ensuring that black leadership has credibility and an important element to establishing credibility is accountability. Without accountability, i.e. the ability to lose their leadership position and influence, leaders can behave however they want without repercussions and typically that behavior will not end well for those they lead.

In addition to producing new leaders to ensure accountability, black leaders must increase the level of specificity in their solutions, especially on a quantitative level. When proposing a solution, specifics, including all relevant assumptions, are critical because it demonstrates two important features to providing legitimacy. First, specifics demonstrate that the authors have thought about the issue and the ramifications of developing and executing a particular solution beyond simple pleasant focus group approved sound bytes. Second, specifics demonstrate a willingness to be proven wrong. Whether or not the authors accept errors in their analysis and change accordingly is unknown, but at least by providing specifics the authors produce the means to allow others to expose errors without the protective cloak of ambiguity.

Overall in order to solve the problems facing the black community, especially the intraracial ones, black leaders must start to lead by example. Leading by example does not involve participating in protest marches, but actually producing detailed strategies and ideas on how to address the above problems plaguing the black community, publicizing them with vigor and discussing them in public forums to maximize their potential validity, and be willing to withdraw from their leadership positions if they are unable to make sufficient progress. In association with a new assertive leadership the black community must be more engaged with their leadership beyond a simple protest level and be willing to move on from a particular leader if he/she cannot produce at least templates for positive solutions.