Poverty and Literature 2018

Urban Injustice

Reading Guide

Introduction (1-4)

Chapter One: "On Building the Ghetto": A History (5-13)

Overall 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”?


End of 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 citizenship

Northern Industrialization (5)
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.

Pre-WWI Discrimination (6)
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."

WWI (6)
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.

Depression (6)
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. 

FHA Policy 1934-1960s (7)
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.

Second Migration (7)
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 United States.


"Vertically 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 valued.

Urban Renewal (8)
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. 

Public Housing Projects (8)
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.

Interstate 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.

The 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.

US 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.

Foreign Competition (9)
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.

Industrial 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.

Globalization (9)
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 less enforced.

Information Economy (9)
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.

Service Sector 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.

Civil Rights Movement (10)
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.


1960s Poverty Awareness (11)
In 1962, political activist Michael Harrington published The Other 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.

Civil 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

Vietnam (11)
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.

Black Power Movement (11)
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 perception.

Riots (12)
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. 

Moynihan Report (12)
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.

AFDC (12)
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.

Great Society 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 about poverty.

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" (14-28)


In what ways do African-Americans face discrimination in the job market? (14)

  • William 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 negatively....Deliberately 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 dissimilarity". (15)

  • [T]he "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”?


Job Competition (16)
The 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 unions.

1900-1950 Race Riots (16)
The 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.

Neighborhood Improvement Associations (16)
During 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 blacks.

Early 20th Century Segregation (16)
In the first decades of the twentieth century, as levels of segregation increased, a new black middle class made up of businessmen and politicians arose.

Differences between immigrant & black political patterns (17)
The 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.

African 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.

Ghetto Population Increases (17)
As 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 Ruling (17)
In 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.

Block Busting (18)
Unscrupulous 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.

Federal Road Building (18)
Federally funded road construction made easy commuting from suburban residence to urban jobs possible.

FHA & VA Mortgages (18)
FHA 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 Deductions (18)
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.

Black & White Integration Comfort Zones (18)
While 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 out.

Concentrated Poverty (18-19)
Among 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.

The 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.


Local Funding for Schools (19)
The 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 education.

“Non-educational” problems of school kids (19)
Inner-city 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 Schools (19)
The "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 selected.... Unfortunately, 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 Schools (20)
Each 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 benefit....Although 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 Ferguson (20)
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 unequal.

A 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.


Health Insurance System (20)
According 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.

Medicaid System (21)
Even 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)
poor 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 problems.


The 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.

According 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.

AIDS (22)
Examples 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.

Lead Poisoning (22)
Poor 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 learning.

Asthma (22)
Both 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.

Hunger (22)
Approximately 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 bed hungry.

Iron Deficiency (23)
I 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

Chronic Otitis (23)
For 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 performance


In 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" (24)
The 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.

Even 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.

Plea Bargaining Practices (25)
The 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.

War on Drugs (25)
The 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.

Crack & Powder Cocaine Double-Standard (26)
Crack 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.

While 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.

[Note Hilfiker’s economic arguments against –

Drug Treatment vs. Criminal Justice System (26)
Drug 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.

Reduced Funding for Anti-Poverty Programs (27)
With 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 trouble.

Post-Incarceration Discrimination (27)
The 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.


Lower Skills Pay Scales (28)
Because 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 behind.