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Why We Need to Act Now to Address the Harmful Effects of Unemployment on Black Millennial Men


By Abigail Luke (Intern, APA Public Interest Government Relations Office)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Black males between ages 20 and 24 is more than double the national average for this age group (14.3% vs. 7.1%). The APA report on “Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic and Sexual Minority Boys & Men” prompted a deeper focus on how these employment disparities lead to adverse health impacts, specifically amongst Black millennial men. An APA fact sheet examines this narrowed topic.


The millennial generation has recently passed the baby boomers in population size meaning our nation will continue to feel the impact of this multicultural, tech savvy group that strays from long-established social norms for decades to come. Although millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history, young racial and ethnic minorities continue to face social inequities. For example, Black males face these disparities at a disproportionately high rate – specifically in employment.


Unemployment and mental health

While many view unemployment as a setback that is strictly economic, psychological research shows its drastic impact on mental health. In males, this mental health impact is even more pronounced. Due to socialized gender norms associated with masculinity, males are more likely to face stigmatization during periods of unemployment. Job instability poses a stark contrast to expectations of males being providers, leaving a harmful impact on self-esteem. Males facing unemployment are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol abuse and smoking.

Psychological research on gender-norms explains the adverse impact of unemployment upon males. Not only do Black males experience stressors due to socialized gender roles, they also face a greater number of psychosocial obstacles that further predispose them to mental health conditions.

During adolescence, Black men become increasingly aware of prejudice and discrimination, which creates damaging levels of stress. In the workplace, research shows that minority men applying for positions are less likely to receive interviews, to be offered employment, and to be placed in roles involving customer service. This damaging discrimination often prevents Black males from accumulating social, personal, educational, and material capital and leads them to work low-paying jobs with limited job stability.

As the millennial generation becomes the centerpiece of the American workforce, we cannot leave Black millennial males behind. From a psychological standpoint, experts must promote policies and practices that address discrimination and implicit bias in both educational settings and the workplace.

Act now

Unemployment disproportionately impacts Black Americans and has destructive effects on mental health. Now more than ever, it is important for both psychologists and policymakers to recognize and address this aspect of our nation’s workforce. Here are some ways in which we can act now to improve employment and mental health outcomes for black millennial males:

  1. Prioritize a broad educational opportunity agenda through investments in job training, vocational education and higher education.

  2. Increase the number of apprenticeship, mentorship, and college advising options to create employment pathways.

  3. Improve summer job initiatives to teach valuable skills and provide structure.

  4. Advance public policies to address discrimination and implicit bias in both educational settings and the workplace.

  5. Support legislation that increases the upward social mobility of black families and ensures equal protection under the law.



Abigail Luke is an undergraduate in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University studying Psychology and Political Science with minors in Spanish and Global & International Studies. After graduation, she intends to attend law school with hopes of working in social policy. She is interested in the intersection of psychology and public policy, specifically the translation psychological research for lawmakers. This summer, Abigail worked as an intern in APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office.


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