In “Being Poor, Black, and American”, Wilson discusses hurricane Katrina, the natural disaster that struck New Orleans in 2005. The hurricane exposed concentrated poverty that was ignored before. It brought to light the awful living conditions of the poor, many who had to stay in their homes because they lacked money for transportation. If the concentrated poverty would’ve been the focus on national television before Katrina I think it would have been dismissed and people would have been unsympathetic also. American people have a false belief that anyone who is poor and jobless it is their fault. They don’t take into consideration the failing economic and education factors. They simply blame it on the poor for not furthing themselves in life to not be stuck in poverty.
However, the poor do not control any of this. In this article Wilson provides economical, political, and cultural framework to understand why their is concentrated poverty and why it is not going away. He focuses on poor inner city black neighborhoods, which have the highest levels of concentrated poverty. The social problems that come with concetrated poverty are joblessness, crime, deliquency, drug trafficking, broken families, and dysfunctional schools. These poverty struck neighborhoods are seen as dangerous so, they become isolated socially and economically. People go out of their way to avoid them because of these reasons. These ghettos have always been around us. We have been ignoring them for decades and even helping them form bigger, In politics especially.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), is a program that was formed following the massive mortagage foreclosures during the Great Depression. The U.S government sought to enable citizens to become homeowners by underwriting mortagages. The government essientially helped the decay of inner city neighborhoods by withholding mortagage captial and making it difficult for those areas to retain or attract families who could purchase their own homes. This assisted with white flight and ghettoization of urban areas. The FHA administered the mortagage program by making a process that excluded ubran neighborhoods using data that suggested a lost of investments in those areas also known as Redlining. Redlining was heavily assessed on racial composition. Redlining was motivated by racial bias and restricted opportunities for buliding and maintaining quality housing in the inner city. The FHA finally discontinued mortagage restrictions based on racial composition of the neighborhoods.
Even Though, the government ended the mortagage restrictions, subsequent policy decisions worked to trap black people in unattractive inner cities. In the beginning of the 1950’s suburbanization of the middle class was already underway with government subsidized loans to veterans. This was further aided by federal transportation and highway policies. These highway policies included the building of freeway networks that devastated the black neighborhoods. It created barriers between the sections of the cities seperating the poor and minority neighborhoods from the central buisness districts. It also caused relocation from the cities to the suburbs resulting in even greater segregation and isolation. This can also be seen in areas of Richmond where highways have been built intentionally to isolate concentrated poverty. These highways literally circle around them making it almost impossible to get out.
In the same time period government policies such as mortagages for veterans enabled the cheap quick production of massive amounts of tract housing and drew middle class whites into the suburbs. An example of this effect of housing market incentives is the mass produced suburban Levittown neighborhoods that were first erected in New York and later in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico. These suburbs had many public ammentities such as shopping malls, grocery stores, and public schools. However, the levitts would not initally sell to African Americans. The first black family to move into Levittown were harrassed for several months. Levittown to this day is still a predominatley white neighborhood.
The relationship between suburbs and cities started to change following the Great Depression. The centurylong influx of poor migrants who required expensive services and paid relativley little in taxes could no longer be profitably absorbed into the city economy. Surburban communties drew tighter boundaries through the use of zoning laws , discriminatory land-use controls, and site selection practices that made it difficult for minorities to acess these areas. Eventually the pressure for intergration increased by the 1960’s and suburbs chose to diversify by race rather than class. They came up with restrictions that allowed only affluent blacks and sometimes Jews. Federal public housing also contributed to the segregated black ghettos as well. The public housing program was in two stages. The Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937 was the first stage. The early stages of it were positive, families were able to economically recover and move on to private housing. The second stage was the Housing Act of 1949, initally made to eradicate urban slums. Although the public housing created a restriction to public housing if families with incomes above the requirement were evicted. This change coincided with the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to the cities of the Northeast and Midwest which lasted for 30 years. As the black population grew so did the pressure to keep them out. Eventually the poorest and least powerful moved to the same place making it overly concentrated. Because of this concentration of poverty public housing became a federally funded institution that isolated families by race and class, resulting in high concentrations of poor black families in inner city ghettos.
Of course Black americans still face discrimination in housing options today. Fair housing audits continue to reveal the existence of discrimination in the housing market, which has weakened the strength of the barriers when blacks make the decision to move into a white neighborhood.
In addition, in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan became president he cut major programs that were designed to help disadvantaged individuals gain traction in attaining financial security. The cuts were made mostly from older cities like the East and Midwest that relied heavily on federal and state aid. The results of these cuts was the immigration of people from poorer countries. A lot of low skilled workers from Mexico moving to the suburbs. Minorities ended up displacing whites in the population. In 2000 the U.S Census Bureau stated the median annual household income of Latinos was about 14,000 less than whites. This caused the tax base to decline and a tremedous loss of federal funding. Municipalities had trouble raising enough revenue to cover basic services like garabeg collection, street cleaning, and police protection. The federal government has had an undeniable impact on inner city neighborhoods. Especially in the Rust Belt. The Rust belt is located in older central cities such as the Midwest and Northeast where the depopulated, high poverty areas have experienced the impacts greater.
The older urban areas were once the place for economic growth and activity but, those cities have now been messed up by complex economic transformations and shifting patterns in the metropolitan development. The mode of production now has shifted from manufacturing to finance, services, and technology. Almost all improvements with productivity include human capitol and technology. With the decline of manufacturing jobs, the low skilled workers now work in service industries. Beginning in the 1970’s the employment balance between central cities and suburbs shifted to the suburbs causing sprawl and economic stagnation.
In addition, the shift of employment from the central cities to the suburbs declined access of economic opportunities and ecnomic decline for neighborhoods. These neighborhoods that are declining have high concentrations of poverty and terrible physical conditions. They offer few jobs and lack basic services that you would typically find in a suburban neighborhood such as grocery stores, banks, and other retail establishments.
Lastly, the effects of intential segregated housing still haunt african americans to this day. laissez faire racism is a perception that blacks are responsible for their own economic predicament and therefore are underserving of special government support. The idea that the federal government has a special obligation to help improve the living standards of blacks because they were discriminated agaisnt for so long was supported by only one in five whites in 2001. It has not exceeded support by more than one in four whites since 1975. I think this is because non people of color and even some people of color have such a poor understanding of what it is really like to be black in America. Things are made hard for black people on purpose and then when blacks succumb to the circumstances we are seen as lazy and dependent on government assistance. I think some solutions to these problems are building up the ghettos and increasing their ability to reach better jobs. We need to put more grocery stores and less corner stores. We can do more for the people trapped in these public housing units but, until the mindset that poor blacks did it to themselves change, we will not move forward from the decades of opression.