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Black and Latino Males' Aspirations and System Limitations Through a Human Capital Lens

Mon, May 1, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Grand Hyatt San Antonio, Floor: Second Floor, Lone Star Ballroom Salon B


The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between Black and Latino male high school students’ perceptions of education attainment and life trajectories through a human capital lens (Becker, 1962), and to mirror the current social and economic conditions that limit social mobility for these groups in the U.S. There are significant wealth inequalities between Black and Latino communities and white populations (Shapiro, 2004; Vallejo, 2012), and these disparities are rooted in various areas including: pay gaps (Pew Research Center, 2016), residential segregation for African Americans (Shapiro, 2004; Pattillo-McCoy, 1999) and Latinos (Vallejo, 2012), and the concentration of students attending under-resourced schools (Lareau, 2011; Vallejo, 2012). However, Black and Latino male youth hold high aspirations to pursue and complete higher education, when compared to other racial and ethnic groups (Harper, 2015; Klasik, 2012). Low-income students of color are more likely to attend less selective four-year colleges and universities (McDonough & Calderone, 2006), which may result in more accumulated student loan debt, have limited career opportunities, and depressed earnings compared to other college educated groups (McDonough, Calderone, & Venegas, 2015; Perna, 2000).

Theoretical Framework:
The Pew Research Center (2016) reports college educated Black and Hispanic males earn 80% of the hourly wages of their white male counterparts with similar educational credentials. The culmination of these harsh realities for Black and Latino youth counters the premise of the human capital framework, which is built on the idea if an individual invests in himself, through education credentials, the return on investment should reflect their efforts (Becker, 1962).

This paper focuses on 60+ Black and Latino male students who shared their views of success were aligned with the pursuit of the “American Dream.” We employed an open and thematic coding strategy to create categories related to the “American Dream” (Vallejo, 2012). Lastly, we used an inductive and deductive to analyze to refine the emerging themes and categories created (LeCompte & Schensul, 2013). The inductive and deductive process allows for theory and data to coalesce into multiple themes to draw from to construct our arguments.

Preliminary Findings:
The 60 Black and Latino male students in this study stressed the importance of “hard work,” “financial stability,” and being “a part of the American dream” to support themselves and their families to reach specific indicators of middle-class status. The students subscribe and accept the belief that a college education is the ticket for social mobility to owning a home, earning a comfortable living compared to their families, and developing a need foundation for their future families including children. These student attitudes’ mirror the hopes and ambitions of other work on social mobility for communities of color (Shapiro, 2004; Tellez & Ortiz, 2008; Vallejo, 2012), but provides the pre-college perspective, which the other studies did not include.

Our hopes are for state policymakers and philanthropies to challenge the invisible and systemic roadblocks impede social mobility for these young men by advocating and revisiting current state laws and practices that contribute to limited opportunities.


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