|Poverty and Literature 2019
Chapter One: "On
Building the Ghetto": A History (5-13)
- How did the Urban Ghetto take shape from the 1880's to the 1950's?
- Despite the fact that segregation has existed throughout
American history, the truly abysmal 'modern ghetto' emerged
during the last fifty years. (After the Civil Rights Movement!) Why?
What were the “effects” of the following “causes”?
BLUEPRINT FOR THE GHETTO
With the end of Reconstruction in 1877, sharecropping, disenfranchisement, lynchings, legal segregation, and
the first of a host of Jim Crow laws ultimately left African-Americans
with none of the rights of citizenship.
slow trickle of black families starts to move north where they could
find factory work inrapidly industrializing cities, but they faced
considerable discrimination, especially in employment. Their wages were
whites, their chances for advancement were poor, and they were rarely
allowed to join unions, but blacks lived in close proximity to
whites in 'walking cities'. The 'push' of oppression in the South
combined with the 'pull' of factory work began a historic
transformation of the American city.
The influx of millions of European immigrants in late 19th c. America created
a patchwork of different ethnic communities in 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.
Many different nationalities initially co-existed in the same inner
city neighborhoods. As factory workers became more affluent, they or
their children moved out of factory neighberhoods and dispersed into the general
population.Blacks, though, were forced to remain in the inner city..
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. Continuing union opposition to black
members and employer reluctance to train blacks as skilled workers in
factories kept African Americans in jobs that were "heavy, hot, dirty
In spite of discrimination, a Great Migration of African Americans
from the rural South began with the outbreak of World War I. The war
effort caused a spike in the demand for factory workers in the North.
During the 1920s, between 1.5 and 2 million
African Americans moved north; an additional 400,000
would follow during the 1930s. These migrants crowded into the inner
city neighborhoods which became increasingly African-American.
When the economy collapsed
in 1929, African-American workers were the first to be let go from jobs and the
hardest hit. 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
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, both specifically
excluded domestic and agricultural workers.
During the waning years of the Depression and again after World War II,
Federal Housing Authority guarantees not only allowed families to
become homeowners (and thus build equity), 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 who
owned 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 to ensure that returning African-American servicemen were
excluded from the massive aid offered to GI's to help them buy
mortgages and establish homes in the suburbs. Policies excluding
African Americans from
government aid lasted well into the 1960s.
Between 1940 and 1960, a staggering 4.5 million blacks left the South
during the 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 new
immigrants few options for housing. Overcrowding forced rental prices up in the
poorest sections of cities. Landlords subdivided houses into multiple
apartments, degrading the housing stock, and overcharged rent due to
the huge African-American demand for housing.
Cities increasingly turned to zoning laes in an effort to separate
residential neighborhoods from industrial areas. When zoning choices
had to be made among neighborhoods, black communities usually lost out, 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
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 before by any European ethnic group in the
IMPOVERISHING THE GHETTO
integrated” ghettos (7)
Despite over crowding, northern black ghettos grew into viable,
productive communities during the first half of the twentieth century. 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). These neighborhoods were
segregated racially, but they were "vertically integrated." Affluent,
middle-class, working-class, and poor families 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
Federal Urban Renewal frequently involved the wholesale destruction of
black neighborhoods.Urban renewal projects
were initially intended to revive decaying inner-city neighborhoods by
transforming them into new, architecturally interesting cultural,
commercial, and residential centers, but black neighborhoods were often the
chosen sites for 'slum removal'.
federal government provided money for the
construction of new public housing for residents
displaced by highways and urban renewal projects. In a catastrophically
bad decision, Congress set strict income limits on who could live in
new housing projects. Functionally,
this meant that the poorest members of black neighborhoods were
from their neighborhoods to strange parts of the city and then
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.
Highways (like Route 40 in West Baltimore and the Cross Bronx
Expressway in New York) were routed through black
an area would be razed and its former inhabitants removed, or a highway
would be used 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)
After World War II, the United States became the overwhelming
leader in worldwide manufacturing (like China today). 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. Due to the high demand for jobs, unions began
accepting African Americans. Unions demanded secure jobs, relatively high wages, and
chances for advancement if one stayed with the company. In other
words, blue-collar careers blossomed in the post-war era. These
blue-collar jobs offered routes out of poverty and into the
middle class for many African Americans.
Over the last four decades, however, major global economic changes have drastically reduced America's economic advantages.
After the destruction caused by World War II, the Europeans and
Japanese gradually rebuilt their manufacturing sectors, and by
the 1970s they 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 as well.
By the turn of the millennium, American manufacturing was competing not
only with the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut but also the former
Eastern European 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 Southwest proved increasingly attractive to industry because land was cheaper,
taxes lower, and unions far weaker.
More recently, the development of large, trans-national corporations
able to create "global assembly lines" has led to further loss of
manufacturing in the United States. American corporation have
moved factoriues to the Third World where wages are drastically
lower, unions nonexistent, environmental regulations few, and
expensive workplace rules to protect workers from injury are seldom on
the books, much less enforced.
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. But
tese jobs are only available to people with a college degree or higher.
Pay Scales (9)
Increasingly, however, the bulk of jobs remaining for poorly trained or
educated Americans now exist only 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 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. Inner city blacks also face difficult transportation challenges commuting from the center city to the suburbs.
The success of the Civil Rights movement in bringing the
end of legal segregation contributed to the devastation of the inner
citiy neighborhoods. African Americans could for the first time demand
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.
OF THE WAR ON POVERTY
Poverty Awareness (11)
In 1962, at the height of the post-WWII economic boom in America,
political activist Michael Harrington published The Other
America, a book that pointed to "invisible" poverty in the
United States He described an economic underworld comprising
nearly one-fifth of the population. Harrington focused graphically on
the poverty of white rural areas such as the Appalachia, but he looked
at other groups, too: the uninsured elderly, migrant farm workers, and
residents of the black ghettos in the inner cities of the North.
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 offer him legitimacy in a position he had only
inherited and also garner the support of the liberals who mistrusted LBJ as a 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
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
As the war heated up in 1965, Johnson's energies focused
increasingly on Vietnam. Disagreements about the
conduct of the war divided the liberal coalition which had 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.
the struggle for civil rights moved into northern cities, it splintered
between followers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the leaders of an
increasingly militant Black Power movement. Northern liberal whites now
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
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
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.
(12) (aka Welfare)
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, the program came to be associated in
the media (and therefore in the public mind) with young, black, urban
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 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.
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.
"Pillaging the Ghetto"
NOT PREJUDICED, BUT..."
In what ways do African-Americans face discrimination in
Julius Wilson's in-depth examination of employer attitudes in Chicago
demonstrates clearly that employers are reluctant to hire young, black
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
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.
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 massive race
riots led by whites were directed against blacks. 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
the first decades of the twentieth century, as levels of segregation
increased, a new black middle class made up of businessmen and
between immigrant & black political patterns (17)
new black politics that emerged differed significantly from the
traditional politics of European immigrant groups. Irish, Jewish, Italian, and German immigrants all relied to
some degree on the voting and favor-granting powers offered by big city machine politics. 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 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. 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 had to find their political power largely in
separation. Unlike other ethnic groups, African-American political
power came primarily from their ability to vote as a block, under the
leadership of powerful black politicians, which meant that those
politicians 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 much higher than those on the white side.
In Sheely v. Kramer, 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
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. Large black demand for
housing encouraged real estate agents to subdivide the housing stock
into multiple apartments thus degrading the values of the property.
funded road construction made easy commuting from suburban residence to
urban jobs possible.
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 middle class 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.
allowing deductions on home mortgage interest payments further
encouraged ownership. Such government programs and policies were
essentially subsidies to the middle class that sponsored white flight.
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 have chosen 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 felt uncomfortable and had begun moving
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 and isolated. 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 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.
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 property taxes, cities with large numbers of poor people
have fewer resources per child and, therefore, less money to fund
problems of school kids (19)
Children who live in poverty 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.
Schools and Charter Schools
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
more difficult inner-city students, any widespread voucher program will
also likely lead to the siphoning off of the better students.
Vouchers also threaten to weaken public schools financially.
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
realized in the next century.
1954 Brown v
Board of Education (20)
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 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. 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 (Pre-Obamacare)
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 to
complete for a person who must go to work each day.
Once covered by Medicaid, the poor face a sometimes-insurmountable
hurdle: finding a doctor who will accept Medicaid payment.
Emergency Room Treatment
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 for families with incomes below the
poverty level. 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 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, 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
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.
Drug Treatment vs.
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), imprisonment 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