The Poverty Report

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Urban poverty affects too many people to ignore.  Weave blogger Steve Peraza is exploring the problem's many dimensions and thinking through possible ways to solve it.

Huckleberry Finn and the N-Word

75 Remember when the NAACP issued a moratorium on the word "nigger?" Is it not ironic that their ally in this fray would be a white literary critic from the Deep South? Indeed the NAACP and Dr. Gribben come from two very different positions in this debate, but they reached a similar conclusion: popular culture would be better off without people saying "nigger." I think they're both wrong. Words cannot be buried, NAACP, and Huck Finn cannot be sanitized without undermining the main thrust of the work, Dr. Gribben. Besides, getting rid of the word "nigger" is not going to eradicate racism. It will only add another veil behind which racists will hide.

Will the Poor Have Their Day in Court?

New York Chief Judge Jonathan LippmanFederal and state courts in America are required to provide legal representation to defendants in criminal cases if they cannot afford their own. Should the same right be afforded poor defendants in civil suits?

New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman believes that it should. According to an article in the New York Times, Judge Lippman will propose legislation that would require the New York State to provide the indigent with legal representation in civil cases. His motivation: “the ideal of equal access to civil justice.” His goal: “a comprehensive, multifaceted, systemic approach to providing counsel to the indigent in civil cases.”

Look beyond Income? Part I

How do we look beyond income when debt is on the horizon? Last week the Insight Center for Community Economic Development published “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future,” a report written by Mariko Lin Chang discussing the disparities of wealth among women of diverse races. The eye-grabbing stat was that the median wealth for black women was $100, for Hispanic women $120, and for white women $41,000. (Subtle, no?) Equally compelling was the fact that more than half of all single black and Latino women either have no wealth or have negative wealth. That is, either their assets equal their debts or their debts exceed their assets… 

SUNY under Fire

UUP activistsHigh school juniors and seniors in New York beware! The State University of New York is privatizing…At least that’s what the United University Professions, a higher education union, has declared in criticism of Governor David Patterson’s most recent budget cuts and proposed higher education reforms. Since the start of the year he has stopped the flow of $153 million to SUNY, and the Governor’s Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which will empower the boards of trustees for SUNY and CUNY to determine tuition rates, promises to wreak havoc on the existing SUNY financial structure. The cuts have already caused hiring freezes, fewer course offerings, and large class sizes. (I currently TA for a two hundred and fifty student survey of American History from 1877 to the present—a whopping one hundred students more than the typical survey).

Follow the Movement...

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948 the United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document represents an international effort to define the relationship of nation-states to their citizenries; that is, to set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” Among these are articles related to “economic human rights,” as specified in Articles 23, 25, and 26 (cited below):

Addressing Causes not Consequences

Urban poverty has ravaged many neighborhoods in PhiladelphiaUrban poverty is a structural problem, not a personal one. And a city’s failing schools, violent crime, and poor health indices are all consequences of poverty, not causes. This much Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer got right. Her column last week was a much needed invective against attempts to treat the symptoms of poverty but not the disease itself.

Unfortunately the medicine she prescribed to poverty-stricken Philadelphia couldn’t fight a cold. Her recommendation: Improve parenting. The logic is as follows: If kids stop having kids, and parents work harder to improve their families, then students will not only go to school but also get better grades, and there will be fewer hoodlums roaming the streets looking for trouble.

If only I had a dollar for every time I heard poor families get blamed for perpetuating poverty!

Touring the 'Hood

Mural of L.A. Gang ToursOn January 16th L.A. Gang Tours made its first trip through the ganglands of South-Central Los Angeles with a busload of tourists seeking insights into the netherworlds of America’s most notorious street gangs. Yesterday, February 20th, the company took its second sold-out tour of the “‘hood.” Given the success of the first two trips, and the likelihood that the third scheduled for March 6th will follow suit, it is probably as good a time as ever to consider the advantages and disadvantages of this business as a strategy to alleviate poverty in the low-income, crime-riddled inner city of Los Angeles, California. While I understand why critics see L.A. Gang Tours as an effort to glorify gang violence, drug wars, and the poverty that underlies them, I contend that the good outweighs the bad. That is, the company is creating economic opportunities where there previously were none, and are converting profits into educational and entrepreneurial programs to improve the inner city communities that they tour. 

History as an Underreported Story (Part III)

If only poverty were fun.When I began this blog I knew very little about urban poverty. In fact that was the challenge. It was one thing to experience poverty growing up; quite another to treat it as an intellectual, academic problem. And I promised myself to learn the issue, study it, and keep a web log to chart my journey. The idea was that others could learn with me, perhaps teach me along the way.  

With that said I’ve tried to answer two questions. First, what are people currently saying about poverty in the news? Second, what have historians said about poverty throughout American history? In the blog I’ve mainly addressed the first question, because America needs change more than it needs a poverty historiography. Poverty is a problem for millions of Americans in the *present*. By reporting on current issues I feel we can transform our awareness into informed decisions about how we organize and mobilize, what solutions we propose, and who we entrust with our votes when poverty-related policies hang in the balance.

Yuppie Food Stamps

My first credit card was an MBNA card.Do you remember your first credit card? I remember mine. It was a grey, black, and red MBNA Master Card with a $1,000 limit. It felt like gold in my wallet…

 I got it way back in ’97, when Guess jeans were in and every dude in the ‘hood had to have the beef’n’broccoli Timbs. I was sixteen with no job and no sense – so your boy put his Master Card to work. In no time I was in debt. Deep in debt. I bought whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. New discman. New beeper. New cds. A nice little necklace for my high school sweetheart. Dates at the movies, the ice skating rink, the steakhouse. Truth be told,  it was one of the best months of my life.

History as an Underreported Story (Part II)

I admit, I love history.To my mind journalists too often eschew the past in their reports. In so doing the current issues and events that they write about enter the public domain as if they had no antecedents, no context within which they developed—no historical contingency. 

I feel the problem acutely when I write about urban poverty. I often try to raise awareness of the struggles of the poor in America’s cities. So I comment on food, clothing, and shelter, as well as employment and the cultural representations of the poor in the news. Rarely, however, do I bring up the history of poverty in America; not one of my posts has been about how the poor have gotten to where they are today. I’m not even sure that I’d even know where to begin…