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Why Poverty Spreads Across America

By       Message Sherwood Ross     Permalink
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 Pockets of poverty, like the sores of some malignant disease, are spreading across America, as its states and cities go broke and bankrupt. "Camden, New Jersey, stands as a warning of what huge pockets of America could turn into," The Nation magazine reports in its Nov. 22 nd issue. In fact, it has already happened, it is happening all over, and there is no signal on the horizon that poverty and blight will not continue to spread. It is not that Americans are lazy and shiftless; rather, they are reeling from betrayal---for they have been betrayed both by their employers, who have shown not an ounce of loyalty to their work forces, and they have been betrayed by their Federal government, which has lied the nation into costly criminal wars.


" Camden is the poster child of postindustrial decay," writes The Nation's Chris Hedges, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times. " It stands as a warning of what huge pockets of the United States could turn into as we cement into place a permanent underclass of the unemployed, slash state and federal services in a desperate bid to cut massive deficits, watch cities and states go bankrupt and struggle to adjust to a stark neofeudalism in which the working and middle classes are decimated." In an article titled " City of Ruins ," Hedges reports that 70 percent of Camden's high school students drop out, that the city's unemployment rate is probably 30 to 40 percent, and that its dangerous streets "are filled with the unemployed."


What is thriving in Camden is prostitution, the drug trade and crime. "There are perhaps a hundred open-air drug markets, most run by gangs like the Bloods, the Latin Kings, Los Nietos and MS-13," Hedges writes. "Knots of young men in black leather jackets and baggy sweatshirts sell weed and crack to clients, many of whom drive in from the suburbs. The drug trade is one of the city's few thriving businesses...Camden is awash in guns..." (and) in 2009 had the highest crime rate in the nation with 2,333 violent crimes per 1,000 population vs. a national average of just 455, Wikipedia reported.

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Camden is no isolated example. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 ranked it fourth highest among cities with under 250,00 residents as 35.6 percent of its population lived in poverty. It followed Brownsville, Tex., 40.6%; and College Station, Tex., 37.3%. Other poverty-struck cities were Edinburg, Tex., 35.4%; Bloomington,Ind., 34.7%; Flint, Mich., 34.1%; Kalamazoo, Mich., 33.4; Florence-Graham, Ca. (in Los Angeles County), 33.0%; Gary, Ind., 32.8%; and Muncie, Ind., 32.6%


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The poverty rates of major cities show similar patterns of despair. The ten having the worst poverty rates are Detroit, 32.5%; Buffalo, 29.9%; Cincinnati, 27.8%; Cleveland, 27.0%; Miami, 26.9%; St. Louis, 26.8%; El Paso, 26.4%; Milwaukee, 26.2%; Philadelphia, 25.1%; and Newark, 24.2%.


High poverty rates, of course, stem largely from persistent, structural unemployment. As the Washington Post reported last January 15th, "Blacks, Hispanics and men have suffered the most mainly because they have been disproportionately employed in sectors hardest hit in the recession -- manufacturing and construction. For instance, the unemployment rate for blacks is expected to reach 27 percent in Michigan, which has been shedding auto industry jobs. Other states with jobless rates above 20 percent for blacks are Alabama, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina."


Where the New Deal's Work Projects Administration(WPA) alone in the Great Depression created 8-million new jobs, nothing of that scope exists today. The same Post article notes, "The Congressional Black Caucus wants the government to create training programs and jobs in low-income communities with the highest unemployment rates." "It's like triage in an emergency room -- you take care of people who need the most help first and you help the others later," said Kai Filion, research analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. Economic losses, the analyst said, could result in a 50 percent poverty rate for black children, up from 34 percent in 2008. While statistics defining the plight of African-Americans make for grim reading, it should be remembered that the majority of America's unemployed are Caucasian and that the real unemployment figure according to some authorities is 20 percent, not the 10 percent reported by Washington.


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It is hardly accidental that cities with high unemployment rates also have high crime rates. In terms of violent crime, as FBI statistics for calendar year 2009 show, Detroit, noted above to have the highest poverty rate, also has the most violent crime per 1,000 citizens, with 19.67 cases. Other major cities are (2) Memphis, 18.06; (3)Oakland, 16.79; (4) Baltimore, 15.13; (5) Buffalo, 14.59; (6) Cleveland, 13.95; (7)Kansas City, 13.00; (8) Stockton, 12.67; (9) Washington, D.C., 12.65; and (10), Philadelphia, 12.38. As Sir Thomas More wrote in his classic Utopia, published in 1516: "You allow these people to be brought up in the worst possible way, and systematically corrupted from their earliest years. Finally, when they grow up and commit the crimes that they were obviously destined to commit, ever since they were children, you start punishing them. In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing," Could he have better explained America's 2.3-million prison population today?


In Camden, there isn't a single inner city supermarket that can put ghetto kids to work at an honest job after school and weekends but reporter Hedges says there are plenty of drug markets. Often, the only job a teenager can land is one on the staff of the local drug lord. The other employment choice for ghettoized youth is the military. While Pentagon recruiters strongly deny they target low-income neighborhoods, a careful reading of the home towns of those reported killed in the Middle East may well cast doubt upon this contention. Camden once was a significant manufacturing hub but those days are long gone. In many communities, major employers abandoned their workers with no compunction (and often without deserved pensions), automating employees out of their jobs. Other employers, as in Detroit, simply relocated their plants abroad entirely. The idea of a prosperous work force based on a vibrant local economy to underpin "the American Dream" got lost in the race to maximize corporate profits. In Trenton, N.J., the sign on a bridge across the Delaware River, "Trenton Makes, The World Takes," is the boast of a bygone era. Reduced employment means reduced purchasing power and reduced tax take for local governments. This year, according to The Christian Science Monitor, California faces a $20 billion budget gap. It has already resorted to "mandatory furloughs for all state workers, teacher layoffs, (and reduced) aid to the university system 20 percent, (and made) massive cuts to education, corrections, and social services." This grim picture is mirrored everywhere. The rising unemployment in New York City's workforce, for example, has worsened its budget crisis, Financial Times reported Nov. 22 nd .

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
 

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