|Poverty and Literature 2018|
Chapter One: "On
Building the Ghetto": A History (5-13)
Question: Despite the fact that segregation has existed throughout
American history, the truly abysmal 'modern ghetto' emerged only
during the last fifty years. (After the Civil Rights Movement!) Why? What happened?"
What were the “effects” of the following “causes”?
BLUEPRINT FOR THE GHETTO
Reconstruction: (5) (1876-1900)
Sharecropping, disenfranchisement, lynchings, legal
segregation, and the first of a host of Jim Crow laws that
ultimately left African-Americans with virtually none of the rights of
A trickle of largely
uneducated African-American workers coming north could still find
work, but they faced considerable discrimination in the cities,
especially in employment. Their wages were lower than whites, their
chances for advancement were poor, and they were rarely allowed to
join unions. Nevertheless, pressures in the South pushed and
possibilities in the North pulled small numbers of African Americans
into northern cities.
The influx of millions of European immigrants in the late 1800s created
a patchwork of different ethnic communities in northern cities
like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Since public
transportation was virtually nonexistent then and since most new
immigrants could not afford to move away from the places where they
worked, the different ethnic enclaves where culture and language were
familiar tended to cluster around the factories and sweatshops. Black
"immigrants" from the Deep South followed the same pattern.
So, many different
nationalities initially coexisted in the same inner city neighborhoods. As
factory workers became more affluent, they or their children moved
out of the ghetto and dispersed into the general population. As a result of this dispersion, a majority of any ethnic group
almost always lived outside of the original inner city clusters.
By the early 1900s, however, the character of the African-American
clusters in the North began to change. Blacks faced increasing
discrimination in housing and public accommodations. Resistance to
integration hardened, so it became more difficult to move out of the
black enclaves. Continuing union opposition to black members and
employer reluctance to train blacks as skilled workers in the
factories kept African Americans in jobs that were "heavy, hot,
dirty and low-paying."
The Great Migration of African Americans
from the rural South began with the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent
spike in the demand for factory workers in the North. Under the impact of the war and in the 1920s,
between 1.5 and 2 million largely unskilled African Americans moved
north; an additional 400,000 followed during the 1930s.
African-American workers, at the bottom of the pecking order, were
the first to be let go and the hardest hit when the economy collapsed. As the economy gradually
picked up during the later thirties, white workers were the first
rehired, leaving disproportionate numbers of African Americans on
relief or in federal work camps.
New Deal (6)
To make matters worse, African
Americans were largely excluded from the most important of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs to alleviate poverty.
Social Security and mandatory unemployment insurance, for example,
were two of the central elements of social insurance introduced
during the Depression, but they both specifically excluded domestic
and agricultural workers.
During the waning years of the Depression and again after World War
II, the Federal Housing Authority guarantees not only allowed families to become homeowners
(and thus accumulate wealth), but these loans also created local jobs and
provided investment in the community. Between 1934, when the FHA was
founded, and 1969, the percentage of white families owning their own homes
increased from 44 percent to 64 percent. Citing concerns that poorer
black neighborhoods were not good financial risks, however, the FHA
"redlined" almost all African-American communities, refusing to
guarantee mortgages there. Private lenders followed suit. After
World War II, the Veterans Administration used the same redlining
policies, ensuring that returning African-American servicemen were
excluded from the program. Policies excluding African
Americans from government largesse lasted well into the 1960s.
Between 1940 and 1960, a staggering 4.5 million blacks left the
South, a second Great Migration to northern cities. Because of
segregation, however, the geographic area of the already established
black ghettos in these cities expanded only slowly, leaving these
new immigrants few options for housing and forcing rental prices up in the poorest sections of cities.
Zoning Laws (7)
Cities increasingly turned to zoning in an effort to separate residential
from industrial areas. When zoning choices had to be made among
neighborhoods, politically less powerful black communities were
usually the losers, tending to be zoned as "industrial," a label
that often prohibited not only the construction of new residential
construction but even the improvement of old residential buildings.
As a result, population density in the black ghetto increased
steadily. By 1950, the average "isolation index" in northern ghettos
was almost 90 percent, meaning that, on average, African Americans
lived in neighborhoods that were 90 percent black, a level of
segregation never experienced by any European ethnic group in the
IMPOVERISHING THE GHETTO
integrated” ghettos (7)
Despite the crowding, northern black ghettos in 1950 were viable, productive
communities. Poverty created its share of social problems (the
average income of African-American families then was only slightly
more than half that of white families), and these neighborhoods were
segregated racially, but largely
"vertically integrated." Affluent, middle-class, working-class, and
poor people all lived in relatively close proximity in the same neighborhoods. Social
organization was intact. Informal networks kept neighbors in touch
with one another, while businesses, schools, churches, fraternal
organizations, and volunteer organizations supported the heaalth of
communities. Most people held jobs. Single-parent families were a
distinct minority. Levels of violence were low. Education was
Urban Renewal projects frequently involved the wholesale destruction of black
neighborhoods by the federal Urban Renewal and the federal
Interstate Highway programs. Urban Renewal (then called "slum
removal") was initially meant to revive decaying inner-city
neighborhoods by transforming them into new, architecturally
interesting cultural, commercial, and residential centers. Again,
because African Americans generally held less political power, black
ghettos were often the chosen sites for slum removal.
As part of urban renewal, the federal government provided money for
the construction of some new public housing for those residents who had been displaced by
the changes. Reasoning that these resources should go to the poor,
Congress set strict income limits on who could live in these new
housing "projects." (A catastrophically bad idea!) Functionally, this meant that the poorest
members of the black ghetto were moved somewhere else in the city
and segregated by class as well as by race, only intensifying their
isolation from the larger society.
Highway System (8)
The Interstate Highway program instituted in 1956 by President
Dwight D. Eisenhower repeated the process. As a network of
superhighways meant to link the country together was blasted through
cities, poor black areas were, not surprisingly, the first choices
for disruption. Either an area would be razed and its former
inhabitants removed, or a highway would be placed so as to create a
physical boundary between the black ghetto and other areas of the
city, further isolating its inhabitants.
federally subsidized highway programs also facilitated the
suburbanization of the North, contributing to the erosion of its
cities. Increasingly affluent whites were eager to leave those cities,
and the government subsidized this exodus by building roads that made
daily access to urban workplaces from the suburbs far more feasible.
FHA and Veterans Administration mortgage guarantees were awarded for
new housing in new neighborhoods but were denied to black or mixed
urban neighborhoods. The effects of this "white flight" were drastic,
not only concentrating the population of poor African Americans in
center cities, but also drawing jobs away from those same areas,
especially jobs that paid a living wage.
Manufacturing Supremacy (9)
By the middle of the twentieth century, the United States had become
the overwhelming leader in worldwide manufacturing. Many of its
factories were still located in the large cities of the North. They
offered good employment, even for workers who entered the job market
with little education and few skills. By this time, most unions
accepted African Americans-- there were also primarily black
unions-- and high levels of unionization in industry meant that these jobs
were secure, wages relatively high, and chances for advancement good
if one stayed with the company. During the immediate post-World War
II period, such blue-collar jobs were the primary way out of poverty
for many African Americans.
Major structural changes in the global economy over the last four
decades, however, have drastically altered that situation. After the
destruction caused by World War II, the Europeans and Japanese
gradually rebuilt their manufacturing sectors, which by the 1970s
had begun to compete, often quite successfully, with American
companies. In the later 1980s and 1990s, less developed countries
like Korea and Taiwan expanded their manufacturing, too. By the turn
of the millennium, American manufacturing was competing not only
with the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut but also the former
Eastern Bloc nations, Indonesia, Mexico, and Latin America.
Relocation to South & Suburbia (9)
Within the United States, changes in technology and transportation
eliminated the need to locate factories in the middle of cities, so
industry, too, joined the exodus to the suburbs. Rural areas in the
North and the cities and suburbs in the Sun Belt of the Southwest
proved increasingly attractive to industry because land was cheaper,
taxes lower, and unions far weaker.
More recently, the
development of large, transnational corporations able to create
"global assembly lines" has led to further loss of manufacturing in
the United States as "American" plants move to the Third World,
where wages are drastically lower,
unions nonexistent, environmental regulations few, and expensive
regulations to protect workers from harm seldom on the books, much
With the increasing computerization and mechanization of manufacturing
worldwide, moreover, many of the better-paying jobs that remain in the
United States require higher levels of education. For now, there is
still a demand for workers who analyze data, write computer programs,
manage people, administer organizations, or do financial planning.
Pay Scales (9)
Increasingly, however, the bulk of jobs remaining for poorly trained
or educated people are in the service sector-- as domestics, janitors,
clerks, salespeople, nursing aides, or cashiers-- where wages have
historically been low and benefits poor or nonexistent. To make
matters worse, over the last thirty years, wages in the service
sector have declined both in real dollars relative to other
sectors of the economy, so even full-time workers in such jobs now
find it difficult to stay out of poverty.
Paradoxically, the success of the Civil Rights movement in bringing the
end of legal segregation contributed to the devastation of the inner
cities. African Americans could for the first time demand housing
outside the crowded ghetto. So, beginning in the late 1950s, affluent
African Americans joined the white exodus from the city to the suburbs.
Only those who could not afford to move out were left.
THE MYTH OF THE WAR ON POVERTY
Poverty Awareness (11)
In 1962, political activist Michael Harrington published
America, a book that pointed to "invisible" poverty in the United
States, to an economic underworld comprising nearly one-fifth of the
population. Harrington focused graphically on the poverty of white
rural areas such as the Appalachian hills, but he looked at other
groups, too: the uninsured elderly, migrant farm workers, and
residents of the black ghettos.
In 1964, during his first months in office after the assassination
of President Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson felt the need for
a grand theme to characterize his presidency, a program that would
both offer him legitimacy in a position he had only inherited and
garner the support of the liberals who had backed Kennedy and
mistrusted this prototypical southern politician. Influenced by
Harrington's book, Johnson declared a "war on poverty" as part of an
ambitious attempt to complete the social revolution of the New Deal.
Rights Movement (11)
Johnson intended to focus the War on Poverty on white rural poverty,
but as the Civil Rights movement gathered steam and the nation
became increasingly aware of inner-city poverty, the spotlight
shifted to the urban ghetto
As the war heated up in
the mid-1960s, Johnson's energies focused increasingly on Vietnam,
while political disagreements about the conduct of the war divided
the liberal coalition that supported the reforms of his domestic
agenda. Most decisive, money funneled to Vietnam could not be used
to fight American poverty. Few of Johnson's poverty programs were
ever fully implemented, and funding, never abundant, was curtailed
or eliminated for almost all of them.
As our involvement in Vietnam withdrew resources from the war on
poverty, the struggle for civil rights moved into northern cities
and splintered. To white supporters of integration, the most
threatening of the pieces was the Black Power movement. Previously
strong supporters of civil rights in the South, northern liberal
whites now felt themselves attacked by their former allies. The
undertones of violence in Black Power were intimidating. Although the War on Poverty was distinct from
the Civil Rights movement, the two began to merge in public
It was precisely then that the ghettos erupted in violence. The
concentration of poverty and the isolation of the poor within
American cities now created overwhelming pressures and frustrations
amid all the promises of help and hope. Beginning in the Watts
neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965, one city after another boiled
over. Television pictures of National Guardsmen occupying the
smoldering ruins of the inner city would by 1968 become a dominant
image of the black ghetto.
In 1964, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a young advisor to President
Johnson. wrote what was supposed to be a confidential memo to the
president. Although the report, The Negro Family: The Case for
National Action, stressed male unemployment as the primary cause of
black poverty, Moynihan also described what he called a "tangle of
pathology" that had undermined the black family, another way of
describing what Harrington (and others) had more positively, if
blandly, called a "culture of poverty." While both Harrington and
Moynihan wrote hoping to spur the country to action, in fact, the
public began to interpret that "tangle of pathology" as an
intractable and intrinsic feature of black urban life.
To exacerbate negative public perceptions, by the end of the decade
the War on Poverty had actually succeeded in signing up nine out of
ten eligible single mothers for the Aid to Families with Dependent
Children (AFDC) program that Roosevelt had initiated thirty years
earlier. Instead of small numbers of widows and their children
receiving assistance, the welfare rolls were flooded with divorced
and never-married mothers. Although it continued to serve more white
than black families, during the 1960s the program came to be
associated in the media (and therefore in the public mind) with
young, black, urban single mothers.
Funding Levels (12)
The War on Poverty ground to a halt before it had begun
to take off. According to historian Michael Katz, the Office of Economic Opportunity (the hub of the War on Poverty)
received less than 10 percent of the most conservative estimate of
what it needed to reach its goals, spending about $70 per poor
person per year. It never reached the takeoff point normal in most
federal programs. The War on Poverty proved to be only the briefest
of skirmishes. The country gave itself no real chance to do anything
Failure of the
Great Society (12)
Worse yet, the perceived failure of the Great Society programs now
became associated with a hopelessly flawed "big government" approach
to poverty that, in "throwing money" at problems, was believed to
worsen them. What, after all, can be done about a "pathology"? Within a
few short years, before we had really tried anything substantive,
ghetto poverty had become, we believed, intractable.
Chapter Two: "Pillaging the Ghetto"
"I'M NOT PREJUDICED, BUT..."
In what ways do African-Americans face discrimination in the job
Julius Wilson's in-depth examination of employer attitudes in Chicago
demonstrates clearly that employers are reluctant to hire young, black men
from the inner city, although they perceive black women less
or not, employers screen out black, inner-city applicants. They may
refuse to consider otherwise adequately qualified applicants simply
because they went to urban public schools, or they may avoid taking
referrals from welfare programs or state employment services....The dialect of the black ghetto, black English vernacular, can also lead to problems....
Understand the “index of
"index of dissimilarity," calculates the percentage of a minority
population that would have to move into other neighborhoods in order to
achieve an even distribution.... By
1910, however, the average index of dissimilarity in the black ghettos
of the largest northern cities had reached almost 60, and in 1940, just
before the outbreak of World War II, the average index of dissimilarity
in northern cities had soared to almost 90, meaning that 90 percent of
African Americans would have had to move from their neighborhoods into
white ones in order to achieve perfect integration.
What were the “effects” of the following “causes”?
sheer numbers of southern blacks who came north in the first great
migration created unique problems. Racism flared. Employers and white
workers sometimes forced skilled black craftsmen to start over as
unskilled workers, while factory owners often hired newly arrived
blacks as scabs to break strikes and prevent the establishment of
1900-1950 Race Riots
role of African Americans as strikebreakers increased racial
tension between working-class whites and blacks. Bombings and other
violence threatened blacks, and beginning as early as 1900 there were
massive race riots. Blacks in the "wrong" parts of a city might be
attacked; whites who lived in predominantly black areas moved out.
Violence at the borders between white and black neighborhoods kept
black areas from expanding.
Improvement Associations (16)
the 1920s, whites formed "neighborhood improvement associations,"
primarily for the purpose of keeping blacks out of their neighborhoods.
... Neighborhood improvement associations collected funds to buy back
property from black owners and offered cash bonuses to black renters to
induce them to leave certain areas. Their most powerful tool was the
"restrictive covenant," by which neighborhood whites entered into
voluntary agreements that bound signers by force of law not to sell to
Early 20th Century
the first decades of the twentieth century, as levels of segregation
increased, a new black middle class made up of businessmen and
Differences between immigrant & black political patterns (17)
new black politics that emerged differed significantly from the
traditional politics of European immigrant groups. As the existence of
many a big-city political machine and many an ethnic politician
attests, Irish, Jewish, Italian, and German immigrants all relied to
some degree on the voting and favor-granting powers to be found in
immigrant neighborhoods. Since
traditional immigrant enclaves bustled with many nationalities, and
since the majority of people with a common ethnic heritage had
scattered around the city, ethnic groups historically gained political
power, in part, by forging coalitions with each other to realize common
goals. These coalitions led to other kinds of mutual cooperation and
increased the pace of ethnic integration into the mainstream. This, in
turn, meant that ethnic enclaves were but a transitional phase of
immigrant assimilation, while under the unrelenting hostility of the
larger society, ghettos became a permanent feature of black life.
Americans, therefore, had to find their political power largely in
separation. Unlike other ethnic groups, African-Americans’ political
power came primarily from their ability to vote as a block, under the
leadership of powerful black politicians, which meant that those
politicians then had a stake in an area's continuing segregation. In
effect, if African Americans wanted political power, they had to "take
over" a particular area and dominate its politics. Even today, much of
African American political power lies in black segregation. Rather than
leading to coalitions, this side effect of segregation can often lead
to mistrust and, ultimately, political marginalization.
more African Americans moved into the ghettos, pressure for
expansion mounted. The prices of property increased so that,
paradoxically, property values on the black side of the black-white
border were sometimes much higher than those on the white side.
1948 Supreme Court
1948, the Supreme Court declared residential segregation illegal,
specifically outlawing the restrictive covenants that white
"neighborhood improvement associations" had used so successfully to
keep out blacks. This decision led to a gradual increase in the permeability of
the borders of the ghetto. Permeable borders, however, hardly led to
integration, for whites would ultimately begin to move out of
neighborhoods if enough (or often any) black people moved in.
realtors, taking advantage of white fears, developed the practice of
"block busting" within white communities along the borders of the
ghetto. The realtor would spread rumors about a pending black
"invasion" and peddle fear of declining property values and a black
"take-over" of the community. These rumors, in turn, enabled the
realtors to buy a few properties from panicked whites at fire-sale
prices and then sell them to middle-class blacks brave enough to
integrate. Once the rumors were thus given substance, property values
fell as other whites hurried to sell and leave. The realtors were then
able to buy up the remaining white properties cheaply and sell them to
African Americans for exorbitant profits.
Federally funded road construction made easy commuting from suburban residence to urban jobs possible.
FHA & VA
and VA mortgage guarantees made home ownership possible. Tax policy
allowing deductions on home mortgage interest payments further
encouraged ownership. Such government programs and policies were
essentially subsidies to the affluent that sponsored white flight.
While such flight relieved housing pressure in the cities and therefore
allowed for the physical expansion of ghetto areas, it had no effect on
the color line, which was maintained despite massive population shifts
to the suburbs.
Home Mortgage Interest
allowing deductions on home mortgage interest payments further
encouraged ownership. Such government programs and policies were
essentially subsidies to the affluent that sponsored white flight.
Black & White
Integration Comfort Zones (18)
they would not choose to be the only black family or one of very few
black families in an otherwise white neighborhood, most African
Americans would choose to live in integrated communities. The problem,
of course, is that once the percentage of black residents reaches a
point where most African Americans might feel comfortable moving in,
the white population already feels uncomfortable and has begun moving
Concentrated Poverty (18-19)
the least appreciated of segregation's insidious consequences is the
concentration of poverty that occurs when a population that is poorer
for any reason is also segregated. Because of their history, persistent
discrimination against them, and fewer opportunities available to them,
African Americans are, as a group, poorer than other Americans.
Segregation, therefore, forces African Americans to live in
neighborhoods that are more likely than white neighborhoods to have a
higher proportion of those who are poor.
consequences of this concentration can be significant. To take but a
single example, where more people in an area are poor, fewer have
adequate resources to maintain their property, and buildings soon begin
to show small signs of disrepair: a broken window fixed with cardboard
instead of a pane of glass, a sagging porch, peeling paint. Other
property owners are extremely sensitive to these small signs and will
view them as signals of decline, leading to reduced incentives to keep
up their own properties, which continues in a downward spiral.
PUNISHING THE CHILDREN
Funding for Schools (19)
concentration of poverty due to segregation has an especially
pernicious effect on the educational facilities available to those who
live in the ghetto. Because elementary and secondary schools are funded
primarily through local taxes, cities with large numbers of poor people
have fewer resources per child and, therefore, less money to fund
“Non-educational” problems of school kids (19)
children bring more hunger, homelessness, exposure to violence, and
other problems to school with them than, say, suburban students, and
these "non-educational" problems demand resources that have to be
pulled away from already meager educational allocations. Ghetto schools
should be getting far more money than suburban schools because the
problems they have to deal with tend to be more confounding and deeper.
Instead, not surprisingly, they usually get less.
"magnet school," which usually emphasizes a particular area of study
like science or the arts, takes selected students from a district's
many schools, grouping together those who have similar interests and
abilities. Usually, these schools have more funds, are better staffed,
get more access to supplies and equipment, and maintain better physical
plants. They are of very significant benefit...to the children who are
by skimming off the best students, the most committed or assertive
parents, and often a higher-than-average proportion of a school
district's budget, magnet schools also make the work of ordinary
schools that much more difficult.
voucher usually represents the average amount of money the public
school system spends per student. Parents can use it to pay tuition or
partial tuition at any school, public or private, that will accept the
child. Although not true of all parochial schools, most private schools
cost far more than the amount of a voucher for "average public school
costs." Poor families unable to afford the added expense will not
certain demonstration voucher projects have successfully targeted the
most difficult inner-city students, any widespread voucher program will
also be likely to lead to the siphoning off of the better students.
Vouchers also threaten to weaken public schools financially.
1896 Plessey v
In its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision
ratifying the legality of segregation in public facilities, the Supreme
Court created the doctrine of "separate but equal." Schools could be
segregated as long as the education provided to black students was
equal to that provided white students. Justice John Marshall Harlan, in
a bitter dissent from that decision, noted that given the social and
economic inequality between blacks and whites in the United States at
that time, "separate" would never be "equal," a prediction amply
realized in the next century.
1954 Brown v
Board of Education (20)
In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education,
the Supreme Court recognized the failure of "separate but equal" and
demanded the integration of public schools. Almost fifty years later,
as Jonathan Kozol has pointed out, we have not only failed to meet the
conditions of the 1954 decision, we have also failed to meet the
conditions of the 1896 decision. Schools are still largely separate and
Black Alliance for Educational Options nationwide study released in
2001 revealed that in fifteen of the forty-five largest school
districts studied (including New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Memphis)
fewer than half of African-American students graduated from high school
with a regular diploma. Without a decent education, a child is
handicapped for life.
SICK AND POOR
Insurance System (20)
to the United States Census, in 2000 over 38 million Americans (14
percent) did not have health insurance at any time during the entire
year. We tend to assume that if people are poor enough, they are
eligible for some kind of governmental health coverage. That assumption
is wrong. Less than one-third of the people living in poverty are even
eligible for Medicaid, the primary form of health insurance available
to the poor, and the rate of the uninsured among poor people is over
twice as high as among the general population....This
means that in any sort of health emergency the poor must spend a
significant percentage of their income on clinic or emergency room
visits, especially when young children are involved.
those who do qualify for Medicaid must undergo an application process
that can be arduous and discouraging. Until the 1996 passage of the
legislation known as Welfare Reform, most poor families who received
what we usually think of as welfare (Aid to Families with Dependent
Children, or AFDC) received Medicaid automatically. Because more than
half of these families have been moved off the rolls, they must apply
separately for Medicaid, a process that can, in some states, prove
virtually impossible for a person who must go to work each day to
complete. Once covered by Medicaid, the poor face a sometimes-insurmountable hurdle: finding a doctor who will accept Medicaid payment.
Emergency Room Treatment (21)
must usually go to hospital emergency rooms or public clinics for their
care. But hospitals are not good places to receive routine health care,
although they generally handle emergencies well, even for the poor. In
fact, federal law requires that any hospital admit and care for
emergency patients regardless of ability to pay, but it is now an
unusual hospital that offers indigent patients much in the way of
continuing care, preventive medicine, or help with routine medical
URBAN POVERTY HEALTH ISSUES
health of poor people is measurably worse than average: infant
mortality, the single most commonly used indicator of population
health, is 60 percent greater (and the death rate for newborns is twice
as high) for families with incomes below the poverty level than for
those above it. Many forms of cancer are more common among the poor.
Individuals earning less than $9,000 annually have death rates three to
seven times higher (depending on race and gender) than those earning
$25,000 or more per year. Poor prenatal care or maternal malnutrition
can each lead to learning disabilities and decreased cognitive
abilities in children, which in turn can contribute to poor educational
achievement, further complicating the experience of poverty.
to the World Health Organization, the United States, despite its status
as the richest country in the world, ranks thirty-second among all
nations in the "equality of child survival," a measurement of the
distribution of health among different populations within a country.
The United States ranks twenty-fourth in life expectancy, and
thirty-second in infant mortality, the two most common measures of the
health of a population.
of poor health among the poor are everywhere: congenital disease and
infant AIDS are far more common among the poor, as are the chronic
diseases of childhood.
children are twice as likely as affluent children to suffer lead
poisoning, for instance, and the long-term, deleterious effects on the
brain of lead deposits are well known. Severely poisoned children may
suffer seizures, coma, and mental retardation, but even those with
milder degrees of lead poisoning are at risk for learning and behavior
problems. Language acquisition can be delayed, hyperactivity may
result, motor coordination may be affected, aggressive or impulsive
behavior is more common, and children may have generalized difficulty
poverty and inner-city residence are independent risk factors for
asthma, and poor African-American children are more than twice as
likely to get asthma as other non-poor children and more than four
times as likely to be hospitalized. The death rate from asthma is four
times higher among African Americans
than among whites. Asthma is not only a serious, potentially
life-threatening illness in itself, but among chronic health conditions
it causes the most school absences.
ten million U.S. households, (accounting for 18 percent of the
children) are "food insecure" at some point during the year, meaning
that they do not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs.
Over three million of these households experience hunger at some point
during the year. On any given night, 562,000 American children go to
was shocked, upon moving to the inner city, to discover that well over
a third of my young inner-city patients were anemic. Average hemoglobin
levels (measuring anemia) were significantly lower than those of my
rural patients. All of the symptoms of hunger, especially when
exacerbated by anemia, mean that hungry children are less able to cope
with the difficulties of their environment
financial reasons, for instance, a poor child is less likely to revisit
the doctor after her acute ear infection seems to have gotten better,
so the chronic form remains undiagnosed. This chronic otitis can
cause a temporary loss of hearing, which may persist through early
childhood. Undiagnosed hearing loss often leads to poor school
A SECOND GHETTO: PRISON
1971, there were fewer than 200,000 people in America's state and
federal prisons. By 2001, that number had grown almost to 1.4 million,
or close to a seven-fold increase. If local jails, youth facilities,
military prisons, and other forms of imprisonment are included, on any
given day over two million Americans are incarcerated, a rate of 736
inmates per 100,000 population. This rate is the highest in the world.
Only Russia (with a rate of 675 per 100,000) and other countries of the
former Soviet Union even come close to our propensity to incarcerate.
"Three Strikes and You're Out"
impact of the generally bipartisan demand for "law and order" began to
be felt in the early 1980s, when both state legislatures and Congress
started to write into law not only lengthier sentences for various
crimes, but also "mandatory minimum" sentences. Such laws took from
judges the discretion they had previously had in the sentencing
process, when they could consider the particular circumstances of the
offense committed and of the person who committed it. The result has
been a substantial increase in the average length of time served in
prison. At both federal and state levels, "three strikes" laws have
been passed that mandate sentences of twenty-five years to life for the
third felony offense. In states like California, these three strikes
can be for relatively minor offenses, including drug possession.
these figures pale next to the staggering incarceration rates within
the African-American community. In the year 2000, roughly one out of
every three black males between eighteen and thirty-four years of age
was under the active supervision of the criminal justice system: under
arrest, awaiting trial, awaiting sentencing, on probation, in jail or
prison, in half-way houses or other mandated programs, or on parole. In
Washington, D.C., half of all young black men are currently in the
criminal justice system. In nearby Baltimore, it's even worse.
Bargaining Practices (25)
mandatory minimum sentence that has taken power away from the judge has
for practical purposes transferred that power to the prosecuting
attorney, who decides not only what charges will be brought against
defendants, but also whether or not to prosecute in federal court,
where sentencing standards are more severe than in most state courts.
Thus, the prosecuting attorney has the authority to offer a plea
bargain for, say, a one- or two-year sentence versus facing trial on a
charge that might carry a mandatory minimum of twenty years. It often
seems in the best interests of even those who are innocent to plead
guilty and take the lesser sentence.
on Drugs (25)
war on drugs has been the major cause of the increase in incarceration
of black inner-city residents. "Declared" in the early 1980s, the
emphasis of this war nationwide has been on law enforcement and the
incarceration of drug offenders, not on prevention and treatment. It
has also concentrated drug law enforcement on inner-city areas and
instituted harsher sentencing policies, particularly for crack cocaine.
Thanks to this war (which has in truth been largely a war on the poor),
between 1985 and 1995 the number of black state prison inmates
sentenced for drug offenses rose by more than 700 percent.
& Powder Cocaine Double-Standard (26)
African Americans are only 12 percent of the population and 13 percent
of the drug users, they are 35 percent of those arrested for drug
possession, 55 percent of those convicted of drug possession, and an
incredible 74 percent of those actually jailed for drug possession.
cocaine and powder cocaine have the same chemical composition, and
powder cocaine can easily be transformed into equal weights of crack.
Crack, however, is marketed in smaller, less expensive quantities and
has, therefore, more often been used by those in low-income and
minority communities; whereas powder cocaine is more likely to be used
by the affluent. In federal court and in many state courts, the penalty
for selling five grains of crack cocaine is the same five-year
mandatory minimum sentence as the sentence for selling five hundred
grams of powder cocaine.
[Note Hilfiker’s economic arguments against –
Drug Treatment vs. Criminal
Justice System (26)
treatment both within and outside the criminal justice system would
clearly be more cost-effective in controlling drug abuse and crime than
the continued expansion of the prison system. The RAND foundation:
every dollar spent on drug treatment would reduce drug use eight times
more than spending the same dollar to expand the use of mandatory
sentencing for drug offenders. Similarly, expanding the use of
treatment has been estimated to reduce drug-related crime up to fifteen
times as much as mandatory sentencing. Studies of drug treatment for
the incarcerated have also shown that those who receive drug treatment
are significantly less likely to return to prison for another offense
than those who do not. Unfortunately, few prisoners receive drug
treatment, just as few poor drug users have access to effective drug
treatment programs of any sort.
Funding for Anti-Poverty Programs (27)
the deterioration of the social safety net (over the last twenty years
government spending for almost every anti-poverty program except
Medicaid has decreased), the prison has become our social policy: our
employment initiative, our drug treatment program, our mental health
policy, our anti-poverty effort, and our program for children in
benefits of imprisonment for less serious crimes, especially low-level
drug selling or possession, are far less clear. Imprisonment also
deprives children of fathers, women of husbands and partners, and the
community of human resources that could provide positive benefits,
including the supervision of young people and other elements of
informal social control. As more young people grow up having parents
and siblings and friends who are incarcerated, jail time comes to be
seen as a normal aspect of the life experience, and the deterrent
effect of prison is diminished.
Skills Pay Scales (28)
of the globalization of the economy, there seems to be a decreased
demand for less-skilled workers across the country. Workers in the
United States now compete directly with workers in underdeveloped
countries, and corporations have too often chosen to move less-skilled
jobs out of the country. As a result of decreased demand, wages have
declined just as the technological skills required by many companies
have risen, leaving the ill-educated, technologically untrained poor