The Overlapping Geography of Poverty
From The ODA Blog
ON THE WAITING LIST. SOMEWHERE TEMPORARY. LIVING WITH PARENTS. SHELTER.
There was a time in America when poverty was largely confined to the embattled streets of the inner city and the isolated hamlets of Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. Poverty surely existed but it had the good sense to keep its distance from Main Street America. So surprised was President John F. Kennedy by the poverty findings of sociologist Michael Harrington that he ordered his Cabinet to create the first-ever official review of the subject. Today, some 54 years later, most of us seldom glimpse the 'hood or the holler except for an occasional cut-through on a drive to a downtown stadium or during a 60 mph lookdown from an interstate overpass. And let's be honest, we like it that way. Out of sight, out of mind.
That's because throughout our history, poverty has been viewed as the unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of an economic system otherwise hailed as the last best hope of mankind. After two-and-a-half centuries of coast-to-coast expansion, American capitalism has achieved a religion-like status in the hearts and minds of its adherents. Even in moments of panic, recession, and depression, America finds solace in the core tenets of its free market faith: work hard, persevere, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Long after the Gilded Age, Horatio Alger's "rags-to-riches" gospel continues to hold sway.
Despite a steady decline since the 1970s in the working-class job market, many still believe that poverty is more personal than institutional. To think otherwise after all these years of blaming the poor for their predicament is to incite a riot inside our national wagon train. As proud Americans, we're simply not good at drawing conclusions that require hard changes. To deal with our 50-year job crisis, to REALLY deal with it, would require the indictment, trial, and conviction of both major parties and their major constituencies. Hard to do when the donkey and elephant have such a death grip on the ballot box, courts, campaign funding, and media spin. Convincing 2016 Americans that something is fundamentally askew in the current economic system is akin to heresy, though Trump and Sanders have surely rocked that boat in this year of improbable political theater. While Donald and Bernie would argue that change is in the air, the safe money is on a return to normalcy after November.
That is to say, if the "natural" rate of full employment continues to mean a job market that permanently excludes 5 to 6 percent of the workforce, well . . . so be it, as long as the vast majority of Americans benefit from the system's exceptional social, political, and economic stability. Talk about an applecart too big to spill. What then do we do about these unfortunate 5 percenters? Well . . . nothing, actually. After all, these folks don't vote and they're virtually impossible to coalesce and mobilize. They're the human equivalent of the B-2 Bomber -- stealth to the public, unpopular in Congress, but here to stay.
Which is what makes the current flap over affordable housing so fascinating. Could it be that the poverty antagonists are finally, grudgingly acknowledging that a tsunami HAS been forming since the 1970s? Could it be that the lack of price-friendly housing for the children of the shrinking middle class--many with enormous college debt and low job prospects--has gotten the attention of local editors and elected officials in a far greater way than public housing problems for the poor and disconnected ever did? Something is definitely afoot when two cities as socially, politically, and economically different as Baltimore, Maryland and Sarasota, Florida are simultaneously debating the pros and cons of affordable housing solutions. And you thought this summer was all about a presidential election. More to come . . . .
Open Door Baltimore, a nonprofit that fights poverty by working with businesses to provide living-wage jobs, is expanding beyond the beltway. To better reflect the organization’s larger mission, the board of directors recently approved a new identity and logo.Read More