Drug War’s Impact on Black America

As the arrest data above shows (provided by Jonathan Rothwell at the Brookings Institution), arrests of blacks for violent and property crimes have dropped since 1980. However, arrests for drug related crimes have spiked dramatically. Yet,

whites are actually more likely than blacks to sell drugs and about as likely to consume them.

Whites were about 45 percent more likely than blacks to sell drugs in 1980, according to an analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth by economist Robert Fairlie. This was consistent with a 1989 survey of youth in Boston. My own analysis of data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 6.6 percent of white adolescents and young adults (aged 12 to 25) sold drugs, compared to just 5.0 percent of blacks (a 32 percent difference).

As for drug use, just 10 percent of blacks report using illegal drugs within the last month, which is not statistically different than the rate for whites. Among college students, 25 percent of whites reported illegal drug use within the last month but just 20 percent of black students.

Incarcerations wreak havoc on family stability, employment prospects, and future income. While there are other important factors that negatively impact black social mobility, an unnecessary War on Drugs is one we can easily address.

3 thoughts on “Drug War’s Impact on Black America”

  1. The link to the 2012 study is broken. Could you link to where you find data on drug dealing broken down by ethnicity?

    This 2010 study indicates black males deal drugs at a rate of 6.5%, while white youths deal at at rate of 4.5%, which is the reverse of your analysis and would explain the higher rates of incarceration:


  2. Perhaps you’ve discussed it elsewhere, but I’d be interested in a blog post about *why* the war on drugs disproportionately affects the black community. Is it because of how much our system criminalizes different types of drugs and which types of drugs different communities are more likely to use? Is it because people of lower SES are more likely to be arrested than other SESs, even if the drug use rates are the same? Is it because black people are more likely to be arrested than other people, even if they’re in the same SES? What other factors could be at play? I’ve heard people theorize about all of the above.

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