The legacy of segregation, the logic goes, means blacks are more likely to attend inferior schools. This creates a high proportion of blacks unprepared to compete for jobs in today's economy, where middle-class industrial work for unskilled laborers has largely disappeared.
The drug epidemic sent disproportionate numbers of black men to prison, and crushed the job opportunities for those who served their time. Women don't want to marry men who can't provide for their families, and welfare laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.
If you remove these inequalities, some say, the 72 percent will decrease.
"It's all connected. The question should be, how has the black family survived at all?" says Maria Kefalas, co-author of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage."
The evidence is strong that this situation can lead to a downward spiral for this entire segment of the American population, and this is the subject of extensive research taking place in the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study at Princeton and Columbia Universities: "The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is following a cohort of nearly 5,000 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000 (roughly three-quarters of whom were born to unmarried parents). We refer to unmarried parents and their children as 'fragile families' to underscore that they are families and that they are at greater risk of breaking up and living in poverty than more traditional families." The next huge set of questions, of course, is what can be done about it, and no good answers seem yet to have emerged. Everyone can agree that inequalities should be removed, but figuring out how to do that is a huge project.