Category Archives: Poverty

Solve Poverty, Solve America


Poverty is America’s biggest problem right now. If the middle class feels poor, then those living in poverty feel even poorer. We don’t really have an education problem. We have a poverty problem. We don’t really have an infrastructure problem. We have a poverty problem. We don’t have a housing problem. We don’t have a crime problem, we have an opportunity gap, which is a poverty problem. Every problem America has right now could be solved if there was more money and if the problems were approached by creative, caring grassroots people.

In this sense Bernie Sanders is right. Money no longer flows through our economy. The wealthy people at the top of the economy are hoarding all the money. If the world were a great big glass chamber with money blowing around to be caught and pocketed, most of us are not even in the chamber. We do need to change our tax laws and finance laws and close loopholes until the rush of money to the top 1% slows and more of America’s money circulates through the middle class and lifts up the poorest Americans.

Since the wealthiest Americans show little inclination to make money flow more equally through our society the problems being created by poverty are increasingly making themselves felt by all of us who live anywhere in America. This cannot be perceived as a problems of just our inner cities. We cannot just absent ourselves from our downtown areas until our cities become off limits to all but the most desperate. What happens in one sector of our society eventually affects all of our society.

The Brookings Institute has been looking at our cities in some detail recently. They have concluded what we already knew about stubborn pockets of poverty and who lives in those blighted pockets. Now Brookings is going beyond city centers to look at metro areas around cities and what they are finding should not lead us to feel complacent in our distant suburbs. Our cities may have felt the sting of tight money first, but the pinch is spreading outward and will continue to spread into more affluent middle class neighborhoods if we do not face our challenges now.

Below, in the author’s words, is a summary of the key points of the Brookings Institute study on metro areas around cities. You can read the entire article and see the graphs (which are too large to reproduce here) at

The economically turbulent 2000s have redrawn America’s geography of poverty in more ways than one. After two downturns and subsequent recoveries that failed to reach down the economic ladder, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today, more of those residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty.1

But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the late 1990s.

The challenges of poor neighborhoods—including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities—make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations.2 These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

  1. Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of people living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 5 million.

The nation’s 100 largest metro areas are home to 70 percent of all distressed census tracts, along with similar proportions of the total population and poor residents living in such neighborhoods. That’s not surprising, considering that, historically, concentrated poverty has been a largely urban phenomenon. However, larger shifts in the geography of poverty within these metro areas during the 2000s have also made concentrated poverty an increasingly regional challenge.

  1. The suburban poor accounted for a growing share of residents living in concentrated poverty in the 2000s.

The concentrated poverty rate remains highest in big cities, where almost one in four poor residents (23 percent) lived in a distressed neighborhood in 2008-2012, compared to 6.3 percent in suburbs. However, suburban communities experienced the fastest pace of growth in the number of poor residents living in concentrated poverty over this time period.

III. Suburbs in the Sun Belt experienced some of the steepest increases in concentrated disadvantage.

Almost every major metro area saw the number of suburban poor living in high-poverty or distressed neighborhoods grow during the 2000s.

  1. Demographic differences between lower-poverty and higher-poverty suburban neighborhoods narrowed during the 2000s.

Our inner city schools will not magically start performing great educational feats if they are not given some really substantial help. We need to pour all the resources we can spare, and even resources we don’t think we can spare, and all the best educational practices into these schools so we can move these children (and their families) up and out of poverty.

We cannot just turn our backs on this struggle for the minds and hearts of inner city children. If we do it will come back to haunt us. It has already chased us off of what used to be some pretty valuable real estate. It has taken whole neighborhoods and turned them into places in our own cities that we will no longer travel to or through. These children are people, and their lives are being wasted. No matter how poor the middle class is feeling if the richest among us will not help, then we must forgo some of our own comforts for a while and tackle this blight which we have allowed to persist for too long. We are not doing enough for these schools and these children. We need to start with this – priority number one.

Along with our schools, our low performing schools, we need to contribute extra dollars from our own pockets, dollars that stay local and can be used when crumbling infrastructure needs attention. Flint, Michigan has, I hope, taught us some valuable lessons. Old water conduits and old sewers are under all the cities in America and can require attention at any time. We need a citizen’s emergency fund that is not available to local governments for any other need than a pressing infrastructure need.

We cannot wait for rich folks to stop being greedy. We cannot wall off or write off the poorest neighborhoods and forget about them. If we do, America will rot from the inside out.

By Nancy Brisson

Are We Poor or Do We Just Feel Poor?


feeling poor4

America is giving us the impression that it is a bit cash-strapped (understatement). Americans are feeling poor and are thinking the feeling is not just a feeling; it is a reality, a reality that will last for a while. Every day feels slightly gritty, cloudy, gloomy, uncertain.

We have been bombarded with warnings about our rising debt (now that the deficit has gone down). We are given a constant case of the guilts about continuing to fund programs that we believe assist Americans when they fall on hard times, and we are informed, without any tangible proof, that when we assist the “poor” we doom them to eternal dependence. Would we fall prey to this unsupported reasoning if we were not feeling poor?

The message that America can no longer afford to support us when or if our fortunes slip (or never existed in the first place) is just one more disheartening proof that these are not times of plenty. Some of us remember what times of plenty feel like and this is not it.

The crunch in Washington may be manufactured or it may be real. It is very difficult to tell because the state of the economy and the pursuit of austerity are such political footballs. We have a Congress that won’t act. But at the local level we are definitely feeling the pinch and it seems real enough. There is no splash to our dash these days. Although there are still people who seem to have plenty of money, those of us near the poverty line find our financial state feels precarious. With a bit of inflation we could find ourselves unable to afford even our current lifestyles.

Can we trace some of our other rather stingy levels of compassion to our fears about our personal finances? Is the fact that we are nervous about America’s economy messing with our ability to be tolerant of the needs of those we see as “others”? Is there truly not enough to go around? In times of plenty it is quite easy to be magnanimous; in times of scarcity, not so much.

America does not produce enough; we don’t hum with productivity any more. We have businesses but we are not rich in commerce. We are not bustling. Some tell us that if we make taxes lower and salaries lower our factories will come back to us. We have already bent over backwards to be nice to corporations, to stay in their good graces, so much so that it seems as if most corporations pay no taxes to the Federal government and, in some cases, the government actually pays them in subsidies. If corporations won’t do business here with all these enticements I doubt that we can sweeten the pot enough to get them back. If we beggar ourselves to get them back then they will be justified in treating us poorly.

If money is slow and business is slow and we can only go forwards and not backwards it creates a lot of pressure on us to be the world’s innovators. We don’t want to follow; we like to lead. But innovation is a fickle get. Sometimes one new thing follows another in a brilliant combustion of positive energy. Other times, like now, some key new factor of invention seems missing or hard to coax forth from a secretive universe.

We are marking time right now in an age between ages or in a new normal that will ask us to live simpler, slower, less flashy lives. I would say to those with all the bucks that if you like a world that feels lively, healthy, progressive, and safe you should be lining up to rewrite the rules and let some money trickle down before it ever trickles up to line your pockets, because then you become convinced the money belongs to you and you refuse to part with it.

If you insist on hogging all the money at the top then you must get used to a dull, skimpy, listless, jealous, suspicious, dangerous, crooked America. However, we can’t help but wonder, is our poverty real or legislated?

By Nancy Brisson

Here is article that came to me this morning in the Brookings Brief:–EMKIRgTK4zPjWuw1mpDD3dTWJTgZRYITjHFXW9lnFIl77Z1PobRDyk0wc-DxFrPTm9WrRywlJSYKCoB4kA92FVnHidA&_hsmi=25774760


More on Poverty in Our City Centers

I sent an email to the editor of the local paper, The Post-Standard, telling them about the study by The Century Foundation entitled “Architecture of Segregation” which I had read on The Daily Beast website.

The study points out, the article in The Post-Standard states, that

“Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to a new study of poverty in America.

The study is the latest to examine a decades-long trend in Syracuse, where the city has consistently ranked as having one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

The analysis of census data by a Rutgers University professor shows that extreme poverty continues to spread unabated out of Syracuse’s core to the city’s Near South, Near Southwest and North Side.

In 2000, Syracuse had nine “extreme poverty” neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty.

By 2010, Syracuse had 19 such neighborhoods, according to a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution.

Now the number of high-poverty tracts in Syracuse totals 30, according to Paul Jargowsky the Rutgers University-Camden professor who published the study with The Century Foundation.

“The general trend is that there is a spreading out of poverty,” Jargowsky said in an interview. “That is happening all over the place. But I didn’t know Syracuse was going to stand out the way it did.” “

You can read the entire article here:

The original article and The Post-Standard article both talk about the fact that when neighborhoods became diverse, white people moved further away and suburban sprawl got further and further from the city center. People in these increasingly distant suburbs wanted the convenience of public infrastructure like city water and being connected to the same sewage grid used by city dwellers (although the infrastructure was clearly much newer). These folks had good salaries and could pay enough taxes to make government responsive to their needs. As more and more tax dollars were spent further from the city center and as the city center emptied out infrastructure in the center of the city was neglected and deteriorated from age and use. When folks left behind in the center city tried to follow white people to the suburbs they found themselves locked out (or locked in). Partly this was because they were poorer than those who left for the suburbs, and partly it was due to actual exclusionary practices.

For these and similar reasons, The Century Foundation study under the direction of Paul Jargowsky (Rutgers) is pointing out this information so that we can find ways to change this paralysis in our center cities. Syracuse is not alone in this situation, although we may be No. 1, perhaps because we are not a rich city, but I believe that we also share in all of the other ways that white people have found to pretend that they are not racist. If you want to see what I mean register on so you can read the comments of my fellow Syracuse residents who appear to have been brainwashed by Fox News et al and who are Exhibit A in what passes for extreme right wing logic which says that the liberals and the victims are to blame and that this city poverty trap is the result of liberal programs that support the poor and allow them to survive without working. I apologize in advance for their ignorance and their inability to hold an original thought.

The problems with writing off this study as delineating a condition that is ‘someone else’s problem’, is that there are and will be repercussions if this situation continues. It is wrong and we need to tackle the beast and find a way to make America better. Here’s what one of our city officials had to say:

‘Paul Driscoll, Syracuse’s commissioner of neighborhood and business development, said city officials are disturbed by the study’s findings. But he said officials cannot explain why the city seems to be lagging the rest of the nation in reducing its poverty.

“We are all struggling to understand why Syracuse is getting hit worse than other cities,” Driscoll said in an interview. “We’re just looking to address what cities can do to address poverty. We’re finding we’re pretty limited in what we can do. We deal with the consequences at the local level, but a lot of these problems have to be dealt with at the state and federal level.” ‘

I hope this will not be our only response to the information in this study. We live in a city that is home to an important private university. We are a city full of architects (award-winning) and engineers. Certainly a committee could be formed to look for some creative ways to address this stubborn inequality in our community. If it was caused mainly by housing issues and unwillingness to live in mixed race communities then people who deal with housing issues might be exactly the people who can find a way out of this. Once some professional approaches have been discussed and designs produced, perhaps community people (those stuck in poverty) could be invited into the group to go over the plans and offer input. I hope this study does not just plop down with a big thud on our doorsteps and then disappear.

We have all been getting glimpses of what will happen if we do not tackle this now. I do not think that our stranded, poor, neighbors are about to accept much more of being overlooked and over-prosecuted and being deprived of opportunities to succeed. These issues falls into the category of “pay now or pay later” and if we wait until later the price will only get higher. Pretend you are so intimidated by poor minority people that you will do almost anything to defuse the situation. Perhaps that is the only way these folks will get their due.

The New York Times also had an article about this topic. Here’s the link:

Think, everyone, think!

By Nancy Brisson