36,000 Black Men Are “Missing” from Philadelphia

A chilling new analysis highlights the impact mass incarceration and violence has had on the city.



Two months ago, Citified published a short, seemingly light post about how there were 70,000 more single women in Philadelphia than single men. Well, it turns out there’s a terrifying explanation for the shortage of single men: about 36,000 African American men in Philadelphia are “missing.”

These are men who should be living in the city, raising families, talking to neighbors. Instead, they are either in prison or dead at a young age.

These are the findings of a New York Times analysis of a pervasive gender gap between un-incarcerated black men and black women across the nation. It’s a problem that’s particularly acute in cities with large concentrations of low-income black communities. Philadelphia, the analysis finds, has the third most “missing” black men in the nation, behind New York and Chicago.

This problem is far, far smaller for other racial groups, both in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The drivers of this horrific trend are not much of a mystery. Of the 1.5 million missing black men nationwide between the ages of 25 and 54, the Times reports that growing incarceration rates account for 600,000. Homicide is the leading cause of death for black men, and they account for a large majority of homicide victims in Philadelphia.

The implications of this gender gap are obviously huge. Writes the Times:

Their absence disrupts family formation, leading both to lower marriage rates and higher rates of childbirth outside marriage, as research by Kerwin Charles, an economist at the University of Chicago, with Ming-Ching Luoh, has shown.

The black women left behind find that potential partners of the same race are scarce, while men, who face an abundant supply of potential mates, don’t need to compete as hard to find one. As a result, Mr. Charles said, “men seem less likely to commit to romantic relationships, or to work hard to maintain them.”

Will Bunch at the Daily News argues this should be front and center in the mayoral race:

It’s a subject that needs to be on the front burner in the Philadelphia’s mayor’s race — but it probably won’t be. It’s an issue that is too sensitive and also too complicated, with no one solution, no quick fix. And the sum is made up of many moving parts.

The candidates haven’t talked about the this gender gap explicitly that I’m aware of, but there certainly has been a lot of discussion about reentry programs for ex-offenders and the continuing violence in many sections of the city (credit Milton Street for his relentless focus on violence). There’s been some, but arguably not near enough, talk about how to attack the problem on the front end, by cutting deeply into the incarceration rate.

But this analysis from the Times is the sort of thing that can make a big, hairy problem easier to understand. I’d wager there’s a good chance the mayoral candidates will in fact start to wrestle with this incredibly complicated problem very, very soon.