poverty in america
OF THE HALF-DOZEN homes that Arleen and her two boys lived in during 2008 and 2009, her favorite was a four-bedroom house on Milwaukee’s North Side. Its exterior was only half painted, and the house was ultimately condemned as unfit for human habitation, forcing Arleen and her sons to move to a shabby apartment in a drug-infested neighborhood. Despite its flaws, as Arleen bounced from one apartment to another, applying nearly her entire monthly income to renting from landlords slow to make repairs but quick to evict, she would long remember that house for its space and relative quiet.
Arleen and her sons are one of the families profiled by Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond in his masterful, heartbreaking book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. For his research, Desmond first moved into a trailer park on Milwaukee’s predominately white South Side, and then into a shared apartment on the predominately black North Side. He observed and interviewed people such as Scott, a nurse whose drug habit led him to lose his license and end up sharing a low-rent trailer with a disabled veteran; Lamar, an amputee and father of teenage boys who lived in a dilapidated duplex until a fire destroyed it; and Vanetta, a mother of three who dreamed of an apartment with a bathtub for her kids and a good job, for whom a judgment lapse in a desperate time instead landed her a 15-month prison sentence.
For three straight years, there have been more than three job seekers to every available job. Nineteen statistics about the poor in America that will absolutely astound you (or should.) Poll shows most Americans see deepening wealth gap. OpEd: Juliet Eilperin of Think Progress believes climate change could be a "wedge issue" in 2012 elections. Rolling Stone magazine on "How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich." And Obama leads with Latino voters going into 2012, while GOP frontrunners face backlash on immigration.
Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class.
Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.
We can't do this alone.
Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.
The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.