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Poverty in America… No Longer an Urban Thing.

A Brookings infographic on the reasons for rising poverty in the Suburbs.

The rest of this study can be found here.

One of the popular beliefs of the American ignorati (AKA conservatives, and their racist co-conspirators) is that poverty in America is confined to the “ghetto”. Not really surprising that they should be so far out of step with reality, when much of their belief system is based on a book written by Patrick Moynahan over half a century ago about conditions in the mid 1960’s.

With the collapse of American manufacturing, and it’s relocation to China – urban areas have undergone wholesale change as people have moved out to find jobs. This has resulted in a reversal of the “Great Migration” of the 1920’s and 30’s, where black folks moved wholesale out of the South to the North urban centers for better jobs building Fords and Chryslers. The segregation of the time stratifying the neighborhoods into urban clusters.

Creating a very convenient Pinata for the racist right.

Unfortunately for the right’s favorite talking point, twin forces are conspiring to destroy the urban ghetto. Gentrification, and the residents desire to seek employment. Tashwaniankia has moved to the ‘burbs!

Suburbs and the New American Poverty

More people with low incomes now live outside of cities, and some areas are ill-equipped to deal with the influx of the poor.

NORCROSS, Ga.—Every weekday around 3:15 p.m., a big, yellow school bus stops on Pelican Drive outside Norcross Extended Stay, near the intersection with Best Friend Drive.

Dozens of children file out, carrying their heavy backpacks away from the Wendy’s and the AutoZone, towards the cluster of aging three-story yellow buildings where they live. Some are met by waiting parents, others trek by themselves to the shabby motel rooms, marching past broken-down cars, their tires flat, scattered around the parking lot, and discarded mattresses piled next to some of the residences.

That families are living in extended-stay motels like this one may seem surprising in a town like Norcross, founded in 1870 and named one of the best places to livein Georgia by Movoto, a real estate blog, last year. Gwinnett County, where Norcross is located, is, in parts, a collection of well-off towns like Duluth, home to NeNe Leaks, of Real Housewives of Atlanta fame. Its unemployment rate is just 5.7 percent and one of its schools, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, was recently named one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

But the suburbs of Atlanta no longer hold just the promise of good schools, clean streets, and whitewashed homes with manicured lawns proudly displaying American flags. They are increasingly home to the very poor, who find themselves stranded in suburbs without the kind of transit or assistance that they might once have found in cities’ urban cores. They are stuck in places like Norcross Extended Stay, that see the same type of crime that families might have once seen in metro Atlanta. (A few years back, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department had to order 20 sex offenders to leave the motel, because it was located near a public pool.)

Joanna Watkins stays at home with her grandkids in one of the tiny rooms in Norcross Extended Stay while her daughter borrows her car to work as a waitress nearby. On the day I met them, Watkins’ granddaughters lounged on the motel’s polyester, flowered bedspreads watching TV while Watkins peered nervously out of the motel room’s first-floor window.

“We don’t let the kids go outside,” Watkins told me, explaining that the family is looking for something better. She moved from Texas in September to help out with childcare, but with her daughter’s low wages, they’re still looking for a more suitable place to live.Fully 88 percent of Atlanta’s poor live in the suburbs, according to Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution. Between 2000 and 2011, Atlanta’s suburban poor population grew by 159 percent, while the city’s poor population remained essentially flat.

 It’s not just Atlanta—across much of the country, poverty is increasingly a problem found in the suburbs. The number of poor in the suburbs surpassed the number of poor in the cities in the 2000s, and by 2011, almost 16.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line, according to Kneebone and Berube.

 

Poor Residents in Cities and Suburbs, 1970-2012

The fact that more poor people live in the suburbs doesn’t have to be a bad thing, Kneebone told me. If low-income residents have access to good job opportunities, affordable housing, low crime rates, and good schools, then the suburbs can provide a path out of poverty.

But poverty has increased so quickly in some suburbs that these areas are ill-equipped to deal with it, she said.

“Many of these communities lack the infrastructure, safety-net supports, and resources to address the needs of a growing poor population, which can make it that much harder for poor residents to connect to the kinds of opportunities that can help them get out of poverty in the long run,” she said.

The problem speaks to a different kind of erosion of the American Dream, in which families strive to get to the much-vaunted suburbs, only to find out there’s nothing for them there. And as suburbs see more and more poverty, they become the same traps that impoverished, urban neighborhoods once were, where someone born there has few chances to improve his economic standing.

There are more tangible problems that arise when poverty grows in the suburbs. Often, government structures change more slowly than the population at large, and residents find themselves represented—and policed—by people who don’t understand their needs or concerns. The unrest in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, over the past year, reflects this conflict.

Suburbs also have less transit than urban areas, making it difficult for low-income residents to get to jobs or buy groceries. And social services have been slow to follow the poor to the suburbs, so many suburban poor find themselves isolated and without a safety net, hidden from those who might be able to help.

 This all became extremely clear to the Reverend Harriet Bradley, who lives in an extended-stay motel in Gwinnett County, where a neon sign advertises rooms for $169 a week. She has no car, and depends on public transit to get around. It can take her three hours to get to church some days, and the public transit in the county doesn’t run on the weekends.

She says she was called by God to talk to other public-transit riders about the need to expand the bus system, and recently decided to attend a public hearing of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners to ask them to divert more support to public transit in the county. After two long bus rides, she waited through hours of dull zoning appeals and then, right before the meeting ended, was given a few minutes to speak.

The crowd was diverse, but the commissioners were all white. Over the last decade, Gwinnett has become the most racially-diverse county in Atlanta. Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the county’s African American populationadded 112,000 residents, growing 143 percent, while the county’s Asian population doubled, adding 43,000 residents. The white population grew by a mere 1,680 residents. Still, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners is all white, as is the county school board, and all of the judges elected to county’s state and superior courts.

Bradley, who is African American, cleared her throat and stood in front of a round table of white elected officials and staff, and asked for more transit funding.”The bus schedules don’t start early or run late enough,” she said. “I’ve often heard people around me say, ‘They don’t realize that I can’t get to work.'”

A person without a car who wanted to attend that very meeting would not have been able to get home afterward because the bus doesn’t run late enough, she said (she’d arranged for a ride home). Gwinnett County residents without cars can’t get jobs at the mall or local warehouses, or at Atlanta’s airport south of the city—the busiest airport in the world—because the buses don’t allow them to get to work on time.

 “Many people have had to turn down jobs because they couldn’t get there,” she said, ending her speech.

Afterwards, she spoke individually to a few commissioners but felt mostly ignored. “The commissioners—they don’t really want public transportation out here,” she told me afterwards. “They wouldn’t use it anyway.” (…More…)

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Are Southern Black People Complicit in Racism?

Interesting article which discusses the differences between black folks living in the South and those from other places. I am not sure the author’s reasoning is correct but it is worth evaluating and discussing…

I’m a Black Southerner Who’s Seen Racism All My Life. Why Do I Stay Silent?

Blacks in the South, Carlton told me, are submissive. He was a young African-American man from Kansas City. We were sitting in a classroom in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A teacher friend of mine had asked me to mentor him and another of her high school students.

Blacks in the South are submissive.

It rolled off his tongue, not as indictment, but as description.

His family sent him “down South” for that very reason, to get him away from, Carlton said, the kind of black people who stand up for themselves and firmly against injustice—personal and otherwise—the kind of black people he had been getting in trouble with as they fought back … against whatever it was they were fighting, something he couldn’t quite explain.

Being among submissive blacks, there would be none of the fighting and mischief that had his mother worried about how long he would live, because Southern blacks don’t fight, don’t question authority, unthinkingly fall in line—the kind of environment he needed.

The proof was all around us.

Never mind the rich history of the Civil Rights movement, born in the South and carried out by men and women so fearless they were willing to be lynched. What caught Carlton’s attention were Confederate flags in store windows, hanging from front poles in people’s yards, on bumper stickers and T-shirts, and gated communities developers named after pretend plantations, hoping to invoke the image of Southern elegance portrayed in Gone with the Wind.

No way that kind of thing would be allowed where he was from, Carlton reasoned. There would be rioting in the streets. (Notice how black South Carolinians have been praised for not rioting after a white North Charleston cop shot a fleeing black man in the back or when nine black people were targeted for death in a church.) The Southern blacks he saw—people like me—seemed too content, too happy, too accepting of the unacceptable.

Listening to him, I felt like Hattie McDaniel, which was fitting, given that I have driven by a restaurant named Mammy’s so frequently it had become part of the landscape, no longer a point of reflection. The sight of it, or riding down roads named for Confederate heroes, no longer left me wondering how much my state’s reverence for a war it started to keep people like me in chains a century and a half ago helped perpetuate 21st-century racial disparities.

That conversation with Carlton was a little more than a decade ago. The memory of that day came flashing back as I watched commentators throughout the country wax poetic with righteous anger about the Confederate flag flying on State House grounds in the capitol of my native state and their clear, unapologetic calls to “bring it down.”

I was ashamed, began wondering if Carlton was right because I knew that in some ways black people and white people in South Carolina had for years done what President Barack Obama warned against during his eulogy for the “Charleston Nine” killed at Emanuel AME—slipped “into comfortable silence.”

Despite the headlines and rhetoric dripping from the lips of Southern politicians so white-hot they make national news and late-night comedians drool, a comfortable silence has been a more accurate description of everyday black life in my part of the South than constant, overt racial unrest.

And that’s why it took the massacre of nine black people in a church once burned down by slavery supporters to make the Confederate flag an issue politicians have to grapple with today.

I was raised about 45 miles from where Dylann Roof allegedly sat in a Bible study for an hour before shooting the people he reportedly hesitated to kill because they had been so nice to him. My childhood included many trips to Charleston, including to Emanuel AME during the summer of 1990 on the day the Ku Klux Klan held a rally a five-minute walk from the church.

I grew up in an under-funded, rural high school that remained segregated for four decades after Brown v. Board of Education, and was taught by a white high school teacher who forbade us from writing about Malcolm X for Black History Month.

I rushed to the TV like many people I grew up with to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I cheered for Daisy and Uncle Jesse against Jefferson “Boss Hog” Davis, and with Bo and Luke Duke in an orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate flag on the roof and named after the most revered Confederate soldier of them all, Gen. Robert E. Lee.

By the time that show ended its six-year run in 1985, the Confederate flag had been flying above the South Carolina State House dome for almost a quarter of a century, placed there in 1962 in defiance of the burgeoning civil rights movement. As it was flying at our capitol to celebrate men who fought to implement a permanent form of black enslavement, we were celebrating it in our homes in the form of the good-natured Duke boys.

By night, for at least an hour every week, we were immersed in the kind of sanitized version of the ugliest period of our past that was codified by Gone with the Wind. By day, we were taught in public schools from a history book written by the daughter of a Confederate soldier that included descriptions of happy slaves and a sympathetic Klan.

We had (and have) friends who revere the flag and told us they were protecting their heritage and honoring the sacrifice their ancestors made to protect the state from an invading army.

They never stopped reminding us of the horrors inflicted upon the South during General Sherman’s infamous march during the Civil War.

Their lines are so well-rehearsed, I can’t tell if they are sincere or a knee-jerk reaction to any criticism of the South.

“There were slave owners who fought for the North, too.”

“Did you know there were black slave owners?”

“Most white Confederate soldiers were too poor to own slaves.”

“That war had nothing to do with slavery; they invaded our homeland and we had to protect it. That’s why Lincoln will never represent me.”

“Thousands of black people fought for the South.”

“How I wish the South would have freed all the slaves, then fought the war.” (…More…)

Interesting viewpoint. Raises a question as to how much this “Southern mentality” may have affected MLK’s strategy of non-violence, if at all. It also raises some question of how the “New South”, particularly those regions into which have gained black population from the North in the Reverse Great Migration of the last two decades as manufacturing has crumbled in the North will fit into this “polite society”. Texas and Georgia are probably the next two states in the once “solid South” to go blue, changing the political dynamic.

Issac Bailey (the author of this article) is a columnist at the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s the author of Proud. Black. Southern. (But I Still Don’t Eat Watermelon in front of White People). He was a 2014 Neiman Fellow.

 

 
 

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