IWPR Analysis Highlights the Need for Targeted Federal Policy Attention to Girls and Young Women of Color

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015  — An analysis released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds little evidence to support the focus on boys and men of color in President Obama’s signature My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

The IWPR report also outlines recommendations to increase public and private sector attention to the needs of girls and women of color.

On February 27, 2014, through a Presidential Memorandum, President Obama established the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and directed it to assess current government policies, programs, and practices that improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color. As it approaches its one year anniversary this week, the initiative has attracted more than $300 million in programmatic investments from foundations, corporations, and other private funding sources. While some of these private investments serve girls as well as boys, others are reserved solely for male youth of color.

IWPR researchers assessed both the available social science research and the evidence used in the interim report of the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Task Force and summarized their findings in the IWPR report, Toward Our Children’s Keeper: A Data-Driven Analysis of the Interim Report of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative Shows the Shared Fate of Boys and Girls of Color. The IWPR authors find that most of the data used to support the singular focus on boys and young men of color in the MBK report is actually about children—both boys and girls—of color. Only a few of the data claims made in the interim report pertain solely to boys and young men of color. The IWPR authors, after identifying and analyzing comparable data for males and females, also conclude that there is no evidence-based justification for excluding girls and young women of color from the special attention—and considerable private funding—that the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative provides to single-sex programs for boys and young men of color. Instead, the IWPR authors argue, the MBK interim report seems to rely on a popular but non-empirically based assumption that young males of color are worse off, when, based on a comprehensive assessment of indicators, young women of color fair just as poorly, if not worse, than their male counterparts.

“Omitting information on girls and women of color in the report contributes to a belief that males of color must be more in need of targeted federal policy attention,” said IWPR President and MacArthur Fellow Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “The report’s omissions perpetuate an inaccurate stereotype that girls and women of color are doing fine, which can have dangerous policy consequences in the real world.”

IWPR researchers find that only 25 of the 114 data-based statements in the My Brother’s Keeper interim report even claim to pertain specifically to boys and young men of color. Of these 25 statements, 11 statements actually refer to data or studies that were not gender differentiated and are mislabeled as being specifically about boys or young men of color. The vast majority of the 114 data-based statements in the interim report—78 percent—refer to children or young people of color of both genders. Furthermore, not only do the data cited pertain to both genders, but when IWPR researchers looked in more depth and found additional data, males of color are often found to be no worse off than females of color. For 5 of the 14 statements about males, the data show that females of color fare as badly or worse than males of color. In fact, only 9 of the 114 data-based statements made in the report are ones on which males of color are seen to be worse off than females of color.

The IWPR analysis also finds that even where the data are unequivocally worse for black men, black women are not much better off. With regard to murder rates, for example, black women are also overrepresented as murder victims. The homicide rate for black females aged 10-24 is twice that for white males of the same age, and more than four times that for white females of the same age. While homicide is the leading cause of death for young black males, it is also the second leading cause of death for young black females. The analysis also finds several indicators where black women’s racial burden is greater than black men’s—that is, where black women do worse relative to white women, than black men do relative to white men—including college enrollment rates, incarceration rates, and HIV diagnoses.

“The issues facing communities of color often affect both men and women,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, Columbia University Law Professor and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, a nonprofit organization that commissioned the report from IWPR. “Reframing the initiative to also include girls and young women of color and issues unique to them would present the comprehensive community-oriented approach necessary to solve the challenges facing communities of color in the United States.”

IWPR researchers identified 12 additional indicators that they recommend be incorporated in any federal effort seeking to paint a comprehensive picture of how all American young people are faring. These additional indicators shed light on issues especially important to girls and young women of color, including student loan debt, bullying, violent victimization, mental health, and sexual health.

In addition to Dr. Hartmann, the IWPR report authors include Dr. Chandra Childers and Elyse Shaw, with Bianca Sacco-Calderone and Sheya Jabouin.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.