Torn From Within: Absence of Responsibility? The African American Family Epidemic: A Woman’s Perspective

August 13, 2008 at 10:01 am  •  Posted in Relationships by  •  0 Comments

By Ivan Page, PhD, MSW

Some Encouraging Statistics
Unemployment Factor – “I can’t let him stay; he’s not working.”
Perceiving Black Women as “Aggressive”



The continued frustration of African American women concerning the availability of African American men as suitable mates is a persistent and a common topic of conversation. African American women whether from Georgia, California, New York or even Maine, Minnesota or Kansas, all seem to agree that many African American men have failed to be responsible fathers and mates.

African American women are tired, frustrated, bewildered; but yet they seem to possess a strong resolve to survive and take care of their families in spite of absent men. Jennifer, a Computer Technician, says “I do what I have to do. It’s about me stepping up and taking care of business, I cannot depend on Jamond. He expects me to carry the load.”

While the structure of the African American family remains to many an epidemic economically and socially, some scholars suggest that it would be naive  in the extreme to think that the African American family is not adapting and surviving in a complex society. The real concern is the status of the families’ survival, its social structure and economic position in society. Does it mainly consist of a mother who is struggling to provide for her children in a competitive society? Or are there glimmers of hope?

Some Encouraging Statistics

Yes there are some successes. “Over the past two decades, the economy did great, and low-skilled women, helped by public policy latched onto it” says, Ronald Mincy, a professor of social work and editor of “Black Males Left Behind”. The African American populations in Prince George’s County, Maryland and Dekalb County, Georgia are some of the nation’s most affluent. The poverty rate for African Americans has decreased from 26.5 percent in 1998 to 24.3 percent in 2006. Also a study by the National Association of Realtors’ for 2006 revealed that single female home buyers were up from 14 percent to 22. Additionally, among single females, 46 percent are first time buyers.

In spite of some new gains, the truth of the matter is that a staggering number of African American households continue to be headed by women; and poverty has become a common way of life inherited from one generation to another. Some seven out of every ten African American children are raised in single households. Additional data reveals that African American households are at an economic disadvantage compared to white households. According to the U.S Census Bureau, in 2005 employed African Americans earned only 65 percent of the wages of whites in comparable jobs. Moreover, John Macionis, a sociologist, suggests that a high risk of unemployment and poverty makes maintaining a stable marriage difficult. And that 27 percent of African American women in their forties have never married compared to about 9 percent of white women the same age.

The lack of suitable men has created a particular phenomenon for African American women—- the absence of available men in their communities. In general, African American women identify two main concerns when discussing their relationship with African American men.

Unemployment Factor  – “I can’t let him stay; he’s not working.”

Mary, a Research Analyst, says, “Tommy can’t keep a job. He goes from job to job. There is always a problem with the boss.” Many African American women are losing trust in a man’s ability to be responsible. Twenty of the twenty-seven (74 percent) women interviewed for this article agree that some African American men expect a woman to take care of them. While this view is disturbing, the truth of the matter is that a growing number of African American men are out of work. According to Erik Eckholm’s article titled “Plight of Black Men Dire, Studies Says”, the share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990s. In 2000, 65 percent of the black male high school dropouts in their 20’s were jobless—that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white dropouts and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.

The inability of African American men to find adequate employment may be deeper than a lack of effort. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) points to failing schools, racism and the decimation of manufacturing jobs as the culprits that continue to suck the life out of the American dream for blacks.

In spite of societal constraints, African American men must do their part to overcome a negative environment. Women are concerned with being partnered with men who are employed and can share in goals to enhance their quality of life. Jobless men have become a liability to women who are struggling to care for their children.

Aggressive Black Women?

“He thinks that I’m too aggressive.” — Conversations with college aged women indicate that men, whether college graduates or not, complain that women are too aggressive. Sherry a recent college graduate says, “they [men] are just scared because I am smart and speak my mind. Black men have a hard time dealing with a woman who is smart and have goals”. Surprisingly, 66 percent of the women interviewed indicate that African American men have difficulty dealing with them because they are independent thinkers and have goals. African American men must understand that women are concerned with being respected. The desire for respect must not be perceived as aggression. And along with respecting women as independent thinkers, men must understand that women have a right to expect and demand a healthy relationship.

The current phenomena may be caused by two societal trends:1) independent, educated and working African American women, confronted by uneducated, unskilled and sporadic working African American men; and 2) a racist society were African American men are not encouraged to reach their full potential. The strength of the African American community must exist within the foundation of a strong family structure where men are responsible fathers and mates. The African American community can best enhance their economic power and social structure by decreasing the number of single headed households. Second, African American men must regain the trust of their women by maintaining a positive work ethic complemented by having meaningful employment. While we know the constraints facing African American men in society; taking advantage of job training programs and college opportunities is critical to developing marketable skills.


Finally, although the compatibility of a relationship must not be solely dependent on financial continuity, it has become an important variable in determining the long term stability of a relationship. African American women are paying more attention to a man’s financial stability. Being in a relationship with a man who is working should not be the exception but rather the norm.


  • Eckholm, E. (2006. March 22). “Plight of Black Men Dire, Studies Say”. Atlanta Journal- Constitution. p. A8.
  • Johnston, L. (2007. August 12). Women Aren’t Waiting to Buy. Atlanta Journal- Constitution. p.16
  • Macionis, J. (2007). 11th ed. Sociology. Pearson Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River. New Jersey.
  • National Report (2007. March). “Black Males’ Rampant Joblessness, High Drop-Out
  • Rate, Incarceration Dooming Black Community”: Study. Jet Magazine pp. 10-11.


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