The Moynihan Report-The Negro Family: The Case For National Action

The Moynihan Report suggests that the breakdown of the black nuclear family in the ghetto has created many problems within the context of social and economical advancement for the black population. The African American Revolution was an important milestone in the fight for black freedoms and equal treatment in America. The struggle for liberty and equality among African Americans, both virtues promised in the US Declaration of Independence, is still ongoing, and the progress in 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his report, seems to be no different than what is seen today in 2015. Continued subjugation of the black population had begun to show its effects in the early 20th century leading to a massive deterioration of the black family, the focus of Moynihan’s report.

The African American Revolution was borne out of frustration for the injustices and discrimination experienced by the black population over centuries of slavery. Small liberties were gained when slaves were emancipated. However, the fight for equality proved to be a difficult battle for even though they had been freed from slavery, they were not considered equal to whites as evidenced by Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory tactics to withhold equality. Equal opportunity for success should be afforded to all citizens, but too many barriers exist for African Americans preventing them even minimal chances of having a successful life. Even creating a successful family dynamic equal to that of whites has been hard to achieve.

Family dynamics is an important factor that shapes the future of individuals. Children growing up in unsupportive or dysfunctional families have more obstacles in their path to healthy life outcomes. These children experience higher rates of delinquency, arrests, and incarceration and lower rates of educational attainment, employment and economic success. It is important to note that whites cannot understand what it means to grow up in a black family, much less a black family living in poverty with one, sometimes two, parent absent. This, I feel, is a major reason why the plight of the poor black family living in the ghetto is not apparent to the larger society as suburban whites are too far removed from the reality of the poor black population; they feel all families must be like their strong, middle-class family unit.

In fact, the differences between white and nonwhite family structure is remarkable. Among poor blacks living in the ghetto, separation/divorce rates are higher, there is an increase in female headed households as well as children born out of wedlock, the latter two are typical consequences of desertion on the part of black fathers (the poor man’s divorce). Although some critics argue that his report is blaming blacks for creating their circumstances, Moynihan actually points out that much of the reasons for the breakdown in the poor black family, and the subsequent deterioration of the communities in which they live, can be attributed to the fact that black families were negatively transformed during the American chattel slavery era. While enslaved, men were separated from their wives, their manhood and sense of independence stripped. Women on the other hand, became strong and independent, as a result of having no one to rely on but themselves. Following emancipation, men were further relegated by white society as “boys” rathen than men, and women continued their independence in the home and as breadwinners, further emasculating the black male population. These feelings of inadequacy create unhealthy behaviors in men and lead to a decline in their personal and professional life, exacerbating the deleterious effects of poor, female-headed households living in the ghetto.

It is no surprise that many factors, including joblessness, poverty, and broken families, are at work here that perpetuate the cycle of the underclass in the ghetto and that there is no one solution to correct it. Although maybe the first step is for America to acknowledge the problems and continually discuss it on a national level to increase the awareness of the plight of the poor black family and begin to enact solutions. Legislation and programs enacted since slaves were emancipated, provide that equal opportunities for success and advancement in life will be made available to all, not that they will actually afford individuals success. I suppose the 64 thousand dollar question is how can society ensure that equality results in successful outcomes.


William Julius Wilson “Being Poor, Black, and American”

Concentrated poverty in America’s cities has been relatively kept out of the spotlight and under the radar for most of America, with many Americans of more modest incomes and from better communities believing it is the fault of the impoverished for their own situation. Disengagement on the part of suburbanites from cities has perpetuated this belief, out of sight out of mind. Until 2005 when this could no longer be swept under the rug. Hurricane Katrina served as an impetus to open the dialogue on what it’s like to be a poor, black American. This catastrophic disaster provided a lens into the reality of those too impoverished, without the means to evacuate.2005HurricaneKatrina12

Areas of concentrated poverty, as existing in areas of New Orleans, are characterized by a large proportion of society where many individuals experience long-term poverty, that lack education and job skills, have disproportionately high rates of unemployment, violence & crime, and are socially isolated from other mainstream institutions. Concentrated areas of poverty isolate residents from interaction with conventional mainstream society and its norms and patterns, as well as interaction with individuals belonging to class and race groups different from their own. Socially isolated neighborhoods limit residents’ access to quality institutions such as schools, libraries, and steady employment. Wilson provides political, economical and cultural reasons for this.

During the post-World War II industrial sector expansion, an influx of blacks moved to cities to join a viable workforce. However, following a subsequent shift from manufacturing jobs to service jobs and relocation of manufacturers from urban areas to suburban areas adversely impacted the employment and mobility opportunities of blacks residing in the inner cities. As more affluent residents followed the jobs to the suburbs, poor residents were forced to stay in a now economically disadvantaged city.

nyc_ghetto_by_homrqtFederal housing policies further aided in the decline of American cities following World War II. The Federal Housing Administration controlled decisions on where subsidies would be offered and the inner city was not one of government’s preferred zones; they deemed these areas as unprofitable and undesirable, limiting interests of potential investors. This and other redlining practices prevented even well qualified home buyers from buying in these ‘high risk’ areas limiting these areas to poor black residents. Highway construction then sealed off the poor urban areas by creating physical barriers hindering entry as well as exit. These highways served as a reason for suburbanites to bypass the downtown areas altogether, adding to the decay of the business and shopping districts.

Out of such poverty and its effects grows an alternative culture deemed by those removed from such environments as ‘black behavior’ rather than a result of adapting to the concentrated poverty and the concentration effects, such as joblessness, delinquency and crime. The “street behavior” of young black males is more of defense mechanism as a reaction to the circumstances in the inner city ghetto rather than what creates the ghetto. It is important to address political, economical and cultural frameworks in order to eradicate areas of concentrated poverty and the deleterious effects associated with it.



Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton “Segregation and the Making of the Underclass”

The word segregation has virtually disappeared from America’s lexicon, but is ever apparent in the landscape of America’s urban cities. Many Americans fail to see the vastness of segregation and those that do rationalize it as an ongoing process that is improving or the desegregation haven’t fully fixed the problem yet. Some even rationalize continued segregation among blacks as no different from other segregated ethnic enclaves such Little Italy of Manhattan or Polish Downtown in Chicago. This, however, is not the same as what is experienced by segregated black populations in the urban environment. We should not envision a desirable ethnic community that thrives on its cohesiveness and cultural heritage. Segregated black neighborhoods are actually places of poverty, social isolation and disorganization, and if something doesn’t change, the life outcomes of blacks will further deteriorate creating a much larger population of poor minorities concentrated in cities.

The effects of concentrated poverty are vastly pervasive. Due to the high employment rates in segregated black communities, the prevalence of families and individuals living in poverty is high. Massey and Denton argue that these areas of concentrated poverty “build a set of mutually reinforcing and self-feeding spirals of decline.” These impoverished groups, or the underclass, become isolated and dislocated from social and economic structures that typically would help them succeed. These highly degraded areas have not always existed. In fact, Denton and Massey state that areas of concentrated poverty can be traced to institutional practices and policies implemented early in the 20th century, and by 1970, these highly segregated cities were commonplace. This pattern of extreme segregation, termed “hypersegregation” greatly impacts the lives of residents, including social mobility.

The authors searched for reasons for this, hypersegregation. They were able to conclude that economic differences do not build this level of segregation; in other words, income levels among blacks alone do not create this phenomena. They found that whites do not want live near blacks so as blacks move into a white community, white residents move out, leaving that area segregated, a resegregation if you will. In some instances, whites don’t want to leave, so they just erect barriers preventing blanks from moving into the white community. Black renters and homebuyers are continually discriminated against by rentiers and the real estate sector, relegating minorities to hypersegregated areas with less spatial capital.

The stigma of area decline is hard to rectify. For years, whites have attributed the decline of the urban environment to the black population alone. This stereotype persists out of ignorance and denial that socially constructed barriers perpetuate and systematize hypersegregated areas, restricting access to social and economic capital, and subsequently impacting well being. I agree withe the authors in that focus should be placed on improving access to jobs and quality education for urban minorities. By doing this, we can begin to improve the quality of life in America’s cities. As Douglas Massey discusses in the video below, it can be done!