Streams

The Overlooked Factor in the Inequality Conversation: Neighborhood

Monday, May 12, 2014

Census data consistently show that the South Bronx is the poorest neighborhood in New York City, and contains the country's poorest congressional district. (nathancongleton/flickr)

Studies show that middle-class black families tend to still live near pockets of poverty, leading to stagnant economic mobility and persistent problems around violence, education, and more. Jamelle Bouie, writer for Slate, discusses the implications and the link between neighborhood and downward mobility. Plus, calls from those of you who have "escaped" poor neighborhoods: Is there an inherent tension between wanting to move out of a bad neighborhood and the notion that one should stick around and "give back?"

Key Stats About Poverty, Mobility, Race, and Neighborhood

  • Among white children born through 1955 and 1970, four percent live in high poverty neighborhoods.
  • Two percent of black adults born between 1955 and 1970 lived in neighborhoods that were at least 20 percent poor. Meanwhile, 66 percent of blacks born between 1985 and 2000 live in neighborhoods as poor or poorer as those of their parents.
  • Among middle- and upper-class blacks today, about 50 percent were raised in neighborhoods of at least 20 percent poverty. Only one percent of today’s middle- and upper-class whites were.

Stats adapted from Jamelle Bouie's piece on Slate.

Guests:

Jamelle Bouie

Comments [31]

Inwood Ray from Tewksbury Twp.., NJ

Indeed, there is a correlation between neighborhood and inequality. But if we look deeper, it is really the ethnic make up of the neighborhood that determines the outcomes of the kids who live there.

I was born and raised in Inwood in northern Manhattan (W.211th and B'way. Lived there for 26 years (1926-1952) with time out for WW II service. It was then a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood, with a heavy representation of Eastern European Jews -- plus lots of Greeks, Armenians, Italians, and even WASPS.

Although it was a lower middle-class neighborhood, barely eking it out during the Great Depression, street crime was essentially non-existent. I remember summer twilight evenings when band concerts were held around the bandstand on the grounds of Isham Park. There was a circular bandstand, and the players played various kinds of brass-band repertoire like John Phillip Sousa, Stephen Foster,etc. Even though practically none of the attendees had roots that went back to the late 19th cent. USA, there were no pressures to play music reflecting the ethnic roots of the audience. WE WERE ALL AMERICANS. And Sousa and Foster were part of our new heritage.

The concerts were attended by entire Inwood families. Mom and Dad and a few kids (not many kids during the Depression.) Looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. Lightning bugs flitting around -- and 6 yr old brats like me chasing them.

When the concert was over at about 9PM, everyone, including the kids, would go home. There was only one beat cop around who stood at the corner of 211th and Broadway. No violence, no muggings. The streets were empty in about 20 minutes and all the kids were home with their parents.

I went to the local grammar school, PS 98, for grades 1-6. Got an excellent education. My grades were good enough to get me a scholarship to a fancy Manhattan prep school. Other working class kids in my class did well enough to get into Bronx Science and Stuyvesant as well as some of the prestigious Jesuit schools like Fordham Prep.

After all of this talk, my point is that it isn't the neighborhood that leads to inequality, it is the social and ethnic values of the people who make up the neighborhood. My Inwood was composed of Irish Catholics; Eastern European Jews; and Greek Orthodox -- all of whom had high respect for the integrity of the family and the value of education -- secular and religious.

Jul. 18 2014 04:44 PM
Letitia from Harlem

If black girls & women stopped getting pregnant until they finished HS and college, it would break the cycle of poverty. ONLY the women themselves can make this happen. They are in charge of their own bodies -- right? Can't blame the White Man for that. Sorry.

May. 13 2014 07:31 AM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

The evil beauty of racism is that when it's 'Done Right', the future white majority never sees its affects and how it benefited THEM. So we get that well-intentioned caller from Jersey who opined that The 'Italians and the Irish' worked their way up...so why didn't the Blacks?

The evil 'meme' of Racism insists that its ALL about Personal Effort and the Free Market. But in Housing in the past 50 years-- only White People were offered the 'Free Market'. Black people only saw the 'After Market'. Black Home buyers were only shown the cast-off places that Whites did not want.

Granted, the racist Realtors of the 60's - the 80's are likely retired or Dead now...but they did their work well. The ironic outcome today is a large proportion of Black Homeownership INSIDE the cities that previous generations of White 'Abandoned', thinking that they would never even have to revisit. We were FORCED to stay and Make DO with our Less-Well-Off brethren. Well, quite a few of us survived and prospered.

Now the NEW Realty Industry is going door to door, asking the CURRENT Black Homeowners to Sell to young upcoming Whites & Developers in neighborhoods that are ripe for gentrification. And a lot of us Laugh at the offers. Because if we sell our homes, the $$$ we get will ONLY avail us of the still existing 'After-Market' housing in the 'Burbs'. Aging, decrepit, HIGH-TAXED & Isolated housing in failing suburbs that Whites are quietly migrating AWAY from. Housing so badly in need of repair and infrastructure upgrades that that fresh splash of paint on the walls in NO WAY hides the laughable fact that the Owners still expect the next sucker/buyer to pay three quarters of a Million $$$ for that glorified bungalow.

Thanks, but any creature in a hostile eco-system, we survived, we adapted, and we made inroads. It ain't perfect....but it's FAR Better than it used to be. And We're not stupid.

May. 12 2014 11:58 AM
Pamela

This is a great discussion, thanks for probing the topic.
When I first moved here from Canada in 1987, I was shocked at what I considered how "segregated" it still is in the U.S. I thought segregation was over????
Education funding and real estate values keep this going. If all schools were funded equally and were equally good then poor towns would be able to give their kids a good education and allow for more mobility and equality and diversity.
Until that happens, America will remain full of segregated neighborhoods. Anyone who thinks this isn't a race issue is blind.

May. 12 2014 11:58 AM
prjunkie

My verything this guest said is absolutely true. I grew up middle-class in a poor black neighborhood in the 80s and 90s. Even though I went to private schools and had plenty of extracurricular activities, I still have ties to that life. My family members have married people with much lower incomes and lacking a great set of values. All the exposure I had to good schools meant that I was in a weird intersection that made my social networking difficult. As an honor student I was usually one of the few minorities in any AP class or program.The pressure black people in that situation "To act black" is dictated by our neighborhood. We get treated badly by our poorer neighbors for being too educated. Even as a great student, I dated gang members because we had access to each other that my friends who lived in the burbs didn't have to people like that.

May. 12 2014 11:46 AM
Daniela from Flushing

Levittown homes on Long Island, through the GI Bill, afforded WWII Veteran's an opportunity to get a low mortgages. However, what I recently heard was that African American Veteran's and Latino Veteran's were not offered the same opportunity. Thus, a growing suburban Caucasian community affecting generations of minority families that were to remain in urban NY.

May. 12 2014 11:35 AM
The Truth from Becky

A horrible ripple effect has occurred that has reverberated through the generations because of "Inequality" and Injustice done to the poor peoples. Not investing in the poor communities. Not lending to the generation that was honestly the hardest working, trying hard to just be equal, the generation that had good intention,denied access to loans and better jobs based on skin tone...now we live with the offspring of those deprived people and "they" look back and say "what happened to you?" but the answer is not pleasing to your ear "Your grandparents, your ancestors" are what happened. So, it is easier to say, "they don't want to work" "they want handouts". Shame on you.

May. 12 2014 11:24 AM
Tom from Manhattan

Not even a peep on our pulic policies playing a role in this, even if not intended? Isn't the point of an interview to question and not just agree? If even to play devil's advocate?

May. 12 2014 11:21 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

Does ease of physical mobility enable economic mobility? I believe that Blacks living in cities with good mass transportation are better able to get ahead than Blacks living in cities without. Is my belief true?

May. 12 2014 11:20 AM
Amy from Manhattan

If gov'ts. do put resources toward improving poor neighborhoods, as Mr. Bouie suggests, they'd have to overcome the mistrust people living in those neighborhoods reasonably have, after the "urban renewals" that destroyed their parents' housing & didn't replace it.

May. 12 2014 11:19 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

I think it's obvious that the racial wealth gap is real, redlining and job discrimination was prevalent right through the 1970's but here's a question and it is a fair one: If the good ole days of high growth are over how do black people "catch up" when everyone else including white people are "losing", rapidly? Our economic dominance was a blip in time extending from the End of WW2, later sustained by the chimerical gains of financialization in the 80's and various housing and stock market "bubbles" since. The "great recession" is the new normal. If our whole country (except the 1%) is getting poorer how exactly do we raise anyone up through the typical Progressive tax schemes/social scpending when the tax base cannot afford it?

May. 12 2014 11:19 AM
BK from Hoboken

I used to work in real estate in the late 90s. The people I met all wanted to make a deal- if a black family could afford a million dollar home, every realtor I knew only saw one color- green. I couldn't imagine any of those realtor types who are usually really aggressive sales people turning down a sale, or pushing a homeowner into a much cheaper home in a black neighborhood instead of a more expensive home in a white neighborhood (they get paid as a % of home purchase price). Lastly,any neighborhoods qualified for lower interest rates from the government via the Community Reinvestment Act. CRA loans got a .25% lower interest rate if you bought in lower income neighborhoods.

May. 12 2014 11:17 AM

The road to wealth is business. The groups that are wealthiest are the groups that tend to start businesses the most. What African-Americans have to do more of is to learn to start and work VERY HARD and LONG HOURS to create and make profitable businesses. That is how you create wealth and can afford to send kids to "better" schools. African-American blacks can learn from their immigrant Caribbean ethnic kith and kin.

May. 12 2014 11:17 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

What's being presented is true for most Black neighborhoods across the USA, but NOT in NYC. Here, except for Far Rockaway, nearly all the Black neighborhoods, even the most segregated, have had dramatic improvement in property values over the past forty years. Bed-Stuy has some of the wealthiest home owners in the city, provided they did not refinance with some of the mortgages devised after 9/11 that were criminal. Hollis is the only neighborhood in the country where the typical Black resident makes more money than the typical White resident.

May. 12 2014 11:16 AM
Natalie from NYC

People live or invest where it is affordable. If any ethnicity groups together, it is only due to the safety they feel within their immediate group. The speaker is driving a concept of victimization which lacks traction at this point in history. As the country continues to expand and diversify, blacks will find themselves in a minority compared to Asians or Latinos - groups whom don't manifest the self pity which is all these types of conversations amount to.

May. 12 2014 11:16 AM
john from Office

I will avoid this segment.

May. 12 2014 11:15 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

What's being presented is true for most Black neighborhoods across the USA, but NOT in NYC. Here, except for Far Rockaway, nearly all the Black neighborhoods, even the most segregated, have had dramatic improvement in property values over the past forty years. Bed-Stuy has some of the wealthiest home owners in the city, provided they did not refinance with some of the mortgages devised after 9/11 that were criminal. Hollis is the only neighborhood in the country where the typical Black resident makes more money than the typical White resident.

May. 12 2014 11:14 AM

Even the federal government could discriminate in housing dollars until 1965...

Attempts at 'urban renewal' often pushed enclaves of blacks out - Out where? Anywhere but here! - and the resources to keep up these places create nightmares of projects.

Even here in central NJ, one of the last n*ggertowns was destroyed to put up another mall.

May. 12 2014 11:13 AM
Guy from NYC

ah the American creed as articulated by another talk radio caller: MY success has everything to do with my isolated and heroic hard work of myself and my family/clan, and NOTHING to do with the privileges and societal support I enjoyed, dumb luck, or government supported infrastructure.

May. 12 2014 11:13 AM

" . . . In terms of physical goods, what is it that we want the poor to have that they do not? A third or fourth television?

"Partly, what elites want is for the poor to have lives and manners more like their own: less Seven-Layer Burrito, more Whole Foods; less screaming at their kids in the Walmart parking lot and more giving them hideous and crippling fits of anxiety about getting into the right pre-kindergarten. Elites want for the poor to behave themselves, to stop being unruly and bumptious, to get over their distasteful enthusiasms, their bitter clinging to God and guns. Progressive elites in particular live in horror of the fact that poor people tend to suffer disproportionately from such health problems as obesity and diabetes, and that they do not take their social views from Chris Hayes — and these two phenomena are essentially the same thing in their minds. Consider how much commentary from the Left about the Tea Party has consisted of variations on: "Poor people are gross."

"A second Xbox is not going to change that very much. . . "

"Welcome to the Paradise of the Real"
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/3148572/posts

May. 12 2014 11:13 AM

" . . . In terms of physical goods, what is it that we want the poor to have that they do not? A third or fourth television?

"Partly, what elites want is for the poor to have lives and manners more like their own: less Seven-Layer Burrito, more Whole Foods; less screaming at their kids in the Walmart parking lot and more giving them hideous and crippling fits of anxiety about getting into the right pre-kindergarten. Elites want for the poor to behave themselves, to stop being unruly and bumptious, to get over their distasteful enthusiasms, their bitter clinging to God and guns. Progressive elites in particular live in horror of the fact that poor people tend to suffer disproportionately from such health problems as obesity and diabetes, and that they do not take their social views from Chris Hayes — and these two phenomena are essentially the same thing in their minds. Consider how much commentary from the Left about the Tea Party has consisted of variations on: "Poor people are gross."

"A second Xbox is not going to change that very much. . . "

"Welcome to the Paradise of the Real"
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/3148572/posts

May. 12 2014 11:13 AM
Pillar

@Shantal - interesting point. I can see both arguements I hope Brian probes the guest on your experience a little. You should call in.

May. 12 2014 11:12 AM
Majora Carter from South Bronx

One of the saddest things I experience as a Black woman still living in the South Bronx community I was born and raised in, is when I hear my neighbors (who don't see me leaving my house in the morning) ask me, "so where do you live now?" To them, I am a very successful person, highly educated, I run my own business, have property etc, yet in communities like ours we are taught to measure success by how far we get from these nabes. They can't imagine a person like me actually STAYING here. THis is why, I do the work I do, planning real estate development as a transformational tool to economically support communities like mine for the people that are in them NOW.

May. 12 2014 11:12 AM
Tricia from NYC, LES

What does Jamelle think of growing up in a poor neighborhood that gentrifies? I'm thinking of the LES and where the local school where 95% of kids once qualified for free lunch can, a generation later, depend on parents to raise more money for school enrichment; bodegas that sell coffee for $1.00 vs. "cafe' that sells it for $4.00. The pros and cons and ultimately, what is the net social benefit?

May. 12 2014 11:11 AM
The Truth from Becky

Not sure why you are only focusing on Black families, there are a good number of Latinos and miscellaneous other foreigners in these poor neighborhoods.

May. 12 2014 11:09 AM
The Truth from Becky

If that is true, then explain gentrification. So realtors have changed their minds now?

May. 12 2014 11:08 AM

There is no such thing as a "poor neighborhood." There are neighborhoods where those who have managed to make more money choose to LEAVE behind believing that the grass is greener over the next hill. THey want to leave places where people are old and disabled and ugly and go to places where people are young and beautiful and healthy and allegedly smart and they think their kids will be safe. They seek out paradise on earth. And it does seem that way initially but over time proves to be another mirage.

May. 12 2014 11:02 AM
Shantal from Brooklyn

Having come up and left from one of these "neighborhoods" as your guest puts it, I can tell you first hand a lot of it comes from unintended consequences of our welfare system. Many families know they have to earn (at least officially) within certain perameters in order to maintain benefits. They also know the major jump in expenses when they remove themselves from the public housing system. This keeps at lot of families locked in place, out of security and just momentum. This has far more to do than housing discrimination, at least from what I have personally experienced. I think your guest should at least explore this if we are being honest.

May. 12 2014 11:02 AM

All of this old neo-bolshevik "inequality" talk is getting old, sickening and stale. Yes, inequality is built into nature. It is the natural state. Yes ,we should help the poor, the blind, the aged, and those who genuinely need some help. But all this class warfare talk is not going to do anything except lead to things getting not better but worse. Enjoy the sun and good weather instead.

May. 12 2014 10:53 AM
Seth

jgarbuz, you can relax, white flight is in reverse. The question is, now that we know all your history, again, what happens next - move forward or return to the old days? ok, your old days are not coming back, but thanks for sharing it, again.

May. 12 2014 10:38 AM

"Escaped poor neighborhood?" I came from Brownsville. Sure it was always a densely packed and generally "poor" neighborhood even back before WWII and mostly Jewish and Italian. But there were better areas like Eastern Parkway for example. We went window shopping on Pitkin Avenue. I liked Brownsville. There was stickball on the street. Kids built boxcar racers out of wood and roller skates. Yes, the sudden influx of massive numbers of blacks from the south and the welfare state caused great upheavals back in the late '50s and '60s. Brownsville was almost burnt to the ground when the city gave preference to tenement dwellers who were burned out to get into the new housing projects. EVeryone then wanted to get out of the tenements and into the new projects. But the rapidly rising crime caused most of the Jews and whites to run out quickly. But being "poor" is more of a mental state than anything else. I feel pity for kids in the suburbs who never played stickball or stoop ball or jumped rope in the streets. Or ran under the fire hydrants in the hot summer. They may have everything except knowing what real fun was like.

May. 12 2014 10:25 AM

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