When JFK was elected as America’s president, black American youth had a comparatively low crime rate and low unemployment rate, while single black women had a lower birth rate than their white counterparts. Within a decade following the introduction of President Johnson’s War on Poverty and expansion of social welfare, crime among black American youth had increased dramatically, as had the birthrate among single black women.
During his inaugural speech, US President Obama commented that a large percentage of African American fathers were AWOL from their family responsibilities. When JFK began his term in office, black American youth had very low rates of gang membership. Today, African American youth face an unemployment rate of some 40%, and gang membership has increased dramatically. An estimated two thirds of African American boys live in fatherless homes and, thanks to the gradual departure of men from the teaching profession, attend schools without any mature adult male role models as teachers. Older male gang members now function as role models for new gang members.
Over a century ago, slave owners in Jamaica removed fathers and older males from traditional African family groups as a means of reducing slave uprisings and rebellions. Today, up to 75% of Jamaican boys may be born into mother-only families, the long-term result of slave owners having earlier broken traditional family bonds. A very large percentage of fatherless Jamaican youth have some form of gang connection, a tradition that has even spread into Canada’s largest city, Toronto, where Caribbean gangs conduct business in the lucrative drug trade.
Gangs represent a surrogate family for a large percentage of fatherless youths. As workers are laid off during an economic downturn, gang membership may increase. Organized gangs are usually able to earn income by trading in the underground economy, by selling restricted and forbidden merchandise. Prohibition raises the price of such merchandise. As a family business, the gang’s business side provides income for members while the family side provides for the emotional needs of their members.
Gang leaders ensure that individual members participate in group activities where each member gets to look good in front of peers who provide encouragement, recognition, validation, emotional support, and approval, as well as a sense of acceptance and status to their fellow members. Such activities usually inflict harm on targeted outsiders who may be subject to swarming, gang rape or physical assault. While individual members might actually despise participating in gang rape, they do so in the presence of fellow gang members to gain the acceptance, recognition, approval and validation of their peers.
Some gangs engage in a game in which they attack unsuspecting senior citizens. Youth gangs in Chicago have boarded city buses to beat up unsuspecting passengers. Teenagers in some large cities in the UK have been recorded initiating unprovoked physical assaults on other unsuspecting teenagers who were riding aboard city buses. Their peers recorded the event and later posted it on social media web pages. These disturbing trends represent the result of well-meaning and often badly misguided governmental social policies that have resulted in the breakdown of traditional family bonds, and government school policies that favor women teachers and so have removed adult male role models from the lives of young boys.
In Western nations, labor laws that set minimum wage levels discourage youth employment, with the result that an elevated percentage of modern youths engage in anti-social behaviour. Before such laws existed, youths could easily find casual employment close to home, working for an agreed-upon rate and being paid cash for performing any of a variety of useful and constructive tasks. Their participation in such employment provided youths of an earlier era with a combination of income, self-worth, self-respect, and personal dignity.
An older generation of supervisors and employers often provided some form of acknowledgement and recognition for successful completion of a job, along with some tacit approval for doing something constructive and for being good people. Earlier communities provided opportunities for willing youths to contribute constructively to the well-being of the community, then receive acknowledgement and compensation for their efforts. Through the process of economic regulation and especially labour laws, modern state policy has greatly reduced the number of such opportunities for youths.
Western governments seek to address the problems of misbehaved youths while ignoring state policy as a possible causal factor of such problems. Various jurisdictions have introduced the failed zero-tolerance policy for misbehaviour at school. Government officials seek to address the bullying problem by enacting anti-bullying legislation, that is, a national version of the failed zero-tolerance policy. To address cyberbullying, governments seek to introduce cyberbullying legislation that includes a series of penalties for offenders. But increases in bullying and cyberbullying may well be a symptom of dysfunctional government social and educational policy.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.